All visitors to internet cafés in Beijing are to be required to have their photographs taken in a stringent new control on the public use of cyberspace.
Hopes that the Olympic Games would usher in a relaxed approach to the internet had already been hit hard when the “Great Firewall of China” — the blocking of websites deemed subversive — was reimposed not long after foreign reporters left the country.
The temporary lifting of the firewall applied to only a few sites and Chinese citizens experienced few changes.
According to the latest rules, by mid-December all internet cafés in the main 14 city districts must install cameras to record the identities of their web surfers, who must by law be 18 or over. There are more than 250 million internet users in China, approximately ten times more than there were in 2000.
It has been several years since internet cafés were required to register users to ensure that customers were not under-age.
All photographs and scanned identity cards will be entered into a city-wide database run by the Cultural Law Enforcement Taskforce. The details will be available in any internet café.
At the Mingluo internet café in the Dongcheng district about 60 people were ensconced in front of terminals. Most were chatting online or watching films. The manager affected a lack of concern about the regulation, saying that he had introduced the policy a month ago. “I think most people don't mind. We explain to them that this will not have any impact on them,” he said.
The Times searched for online comments on the rules but was unable to find any — often a sign that most commentary has been critical and has therefore been erased. However, a survey by the internet version of the People's Daily showed that 72 per cent of respondents were opposed to the measure, calling it an infringement of their rights. Just over 26 per cent supported the photographing because it would benefit children.
Today is the expiry date on one of the concessions to the greater freedom that came with the Olympics: permission for foreign reporters to travel the country unhindered. China had promised complete media freedom when it applied to host the Games.
While its propaganda mandarins issued a 21-point directive limiting the domestic media, officials lifted restrictions on travelling and reporting by foreign journalists.
The authorities indicated that some freedoms could be maintained. Qin Gang, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said: “The Chinese Government will continue to follow the opening-up policy and to facilitate the work of foreign media and journalists in China.”
Sophie Richardson, of Human Rights Watch Asia, said that keeping the regulations and extending them to Chinese journalists “would be one of the most important legacies of the Games”.
Watching the media
— The Foreign Correspondents' Club says authorities interfered with reporters more than 335 times since January 1 last year
— Police beat the ITN reporter John Ray at a Tibet protest near Beijing's main Olympic zone this August
— Zhang Jianhong, former editor-in-chief of the banned literary website Aegean Sea, was jailed for six years in March 2007 for “inciting subversion”
— Police arrested the web dissident Du Daobin in July for violating probation, after his 2004 jailing
— More than 18,000 blogs and websites were shut from April to September 2007
— In late May 2008 media ordered to reduce coverage of collapsed schools in the earthquake zone that killed thousands of pupils