China Moves to Require Internet Sites Register with Government

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China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (Chinese site) has announced a new three-tiered plan that would have service providers tighten control over access to Internet domains—and potentially convert the so-called “Great Firewall of China” from a blacklisting operation that blocks access to banned sites to a whitelisting operation that only enables access to sites that have registered (and been approved by) the Chinese government.

Although the specifics of the new plan aren’t clear&mndash;and the title of the document itself seems to indicate it’s mostly about cell phones—the intent of the program seems to be strengthening China’s campaign against onlien pornography, obscene and violent materials, and other information it deems to be dangerous or inappropriate. According to the document, domain names that haven’t been registered will not be resolved,” which means that users wouldn’t have access to them. However, there is no indication in the document whether this applies to only Web sites within China, to both Chinese and international Web sites, or what sort of registration process might be required.

The policy may only apply to domains using China’s “.cn” top-level domain suffix; in the past, China has indicated it intends to scrutinize .cn registrations more closely to crack down on fraudsters, software and content pirates, and sites conducting illegal activities.

China’s anti-pornography campaign on the Internet has been criticized by free speech advocates for blocking not just adult content, but political speech and other types of information.

Although it seems unlikely the Chinese government would try to convert its entire Internet filtering operation over to a whitelist-only system, the country already operates the most extensive Internet filtering and monitoring regime on the planet, and is prone to making broad policy changes that can radically impact Internet use, such as a recent mandate to require “Green Dam” Internet filtering software be installed on all new PCs sold in the country. (China subsequently backed off from the requirement, following allegations the filtering program was based on pirated code and blocked legitimate content.)

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