China has failed to renew regulations giving foreign journalists freedom to travel around the country.
The decision is a blow to those who hoped the more open society put in place for the Beijing Olympics would be maintained.
In a further sign of the tightening of censorship rules, internet cafes in the capital Beijing have been compelled to install cameras and take photographs of all customers to be logged with the authorities.
The new rules on reporting, introduced on Jan 1 2007 to international fanfare, lifted requirements for journalists from abroad to obtain permission from the foreign ministry every time they intended to travel or to conduct an interview.
The change was introduced specifically to meet Beijing's commitment to allow free reporting of the Games and preparations for them when it was awarded the Olympics in 2001.
They expired yesterday with no news of their being extended or replaced, despite repeated hints that the temporary loosening of the rules would be made permanent.
The foreign ministry says that new rules are on the way but is unclear as to when. "I understand everyone's eager desire," a spokesman replied to questions at a regular press briefing for foreign reporters. "We will tell you very soon what the related arrangements are."
The rules were often only honoured in the breach, with correspondents regularly roaming the country without seeking permission, but they gave police and local authorities a pretext to detain reporters at troublespots, harass local assistants and researchers, and send them back to Beijing or Shanghai.
They also provided a disincentive to would-be interviewees, who were also breaking the law.
Even after their lifting, some reporters have been detained and harassed on occasion. During the uprising in Tibetan areas of China in March and April, they were effectively suspended in the affected region, with all foreign journalists kept out.
Some provincial authorities said they would unilaterally stick to the temporary reporting rules until instructed otherwise. But Human Rights Watch demanded the lifting of the travel ban be made permanent and extended to China's own journalists too.
"While there were serious problems in implementing Olympics-related media freedom regulations, they did mark a new and much higher standard in Chinese law for reporting freedom," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director.
Meanwhile the restrictions imposed on Beijing's "net bars" - which include the issuing of special new numbered passes to customers - mean that all online activity at the cafes can be traced to individuals.
Proposals to introduce nationwide rules compelling "real name registration" which would have achieved the same effect were dropped after an outcry about privacy, in an unusual example of people power. But the new rule, which also involves registering identity card numbers, has the same effect.A government-run website suggested the rule was intended to counter hacking, internet pornography, and "web rumours". A spokesman said that 1,500 internet cafes in 14 of Beijing's 18 districts had been fitted with the cameras, and the remaining four districts would fall within the scheme by the middle of December