Beijing Requires Photo Registration at All Internet Cafes by December
Beijing officials have issued a "new regulation" requiring all Internet cafes in the city to forward photographs of customers to a city law enforcement department to be kept on file for monitoring purposes, according to an October 16, 2008, Xinhua article.
Beijing officials have issued a "new regulation" requiring all Internet cafes in the city to forward photographs of customers to a city law enforcement department to be kept on file for monitoring purposes, according to an October 16, 2008, Xinhua article. According to the article, by mid-December all Internet cafes will be required to install and use a machine consisting of a digital camera and ID scanner. First-time customers wishing to access computers at a cafe will be required to stand before the machine, known as the "Beijing City Internet Cafe Internet Access Registration Device," which will photograph the customer, scan his or her ID, and forward the information to the Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency. The Xinhua article said that 1,500 Internet cafes in Beijing already have begun using the system, which was first introduced in 2005. Previously, customers had to show only an ID to gain entry.
A spokesperson for the agency said the new measures are intended to prevent multiple persons from using the same ID, a ploy sometimes used by young people who do not meet the minimum age requirement to enter Internet cafes, according to an October 17 Wall Street Journal article. Chinese officials blame the cafes for contributing to school absences and juvenile crime, according to a February 12 Associated Press article (reprinted in ABC News).
The new system will make it easier for Chinese officials to monitor the activities of Internet cafe customers. Under the Regulations on the Administration of Internet Access Service Business Establishments issued in 2002, Internet cafes already must examine and register a customers' identification card, keep such records for at least 60 days, and provide the information to cultural and public security agencies for examination if requested to do so. Under the new system, both the customer's photo and identification information are forwarded directly to a "monitoring platform" hosted by the Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency at the time of registration. News reports did not indicate the length of time such records would be maintained.
The new measures could have a chilling effect on free expression because they make it easier for officials to identify persons who access the Web at Internet cafes. Officials continue to punish citizens for peacefully criticizing the Chinese government and Communist Party on the Internet, including, for example, Yang Chunlin, Hu Jia, and Lu Gengsong. Officials rely on information provided by Internet access providers to prosecute such cases. For example, Chinese officials submitted customer identification and e-mail account information provided by Yahoo! as evidence against the journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005 for illegally supplying state secrets. A People's Daily online poll found that 72 percent of the respondents were against the new measure, saying it infringed on their rights, according to an October 17 Times of London article. Chinese citizens quoted in an October 17 Xinhua article and the Wall Street Journal article called the new measures unnecessary and said they would stop going to Internet cafes, although some supported the measures as a way to prevent students from visiting the cafes to play online games.
The text of the regulation was not available at the time of this writing.
For more information on China's imprisonment of online critics and censorship of the Internet in general, see "Internet Censorship" in Section II - Freedom of Expression, in the CECC's 2008 Annual Report.