China tightens control of internet use


China’s Communist Party has tightened its grip on the world’s biggest population of internet users with new rules that legalise the deletion of “illegal” posts or pages and require people to identify themselves when signing up for online services.

The rules were approved by China’s top parliamentary body as Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, arrived in China for a three-day visit.

Beijing says the regulations are aimed at protecting web surfers’ personal information and cracking down on abuses such as spam and pornography. The rules also require service providers to hand over “illegal information” to the authorities.

China is home to about 550 million web users and the government is keen to harness the commercial freedoms the online world offers, especially in the e-commerce sector.

The government operates a rigorous set of controls on internet content, known colloquially as the “Great Firewall of China”, which keeps a tight rein on politically suspect material, as well as pornography and gambling content.

The new rules dash hopes that the new leadership of Communist Party chief Xi Jinping would take a more liberal course on internet freedom, which has provided a rare forum for free expression in a country where the media is strictly controlled.

The new law requires people to give their real names when they sign up for internet, fixed phone line or mobile phone services. Providers must take names when allowing them to post information publicly.

The party now has more control over microblogs, such as the popular Weibo service, which is similar to the banned Twitter, and it also has greater monitoring power over mobile phone users and websites.

These services have become forums for debate and for users to express dissent and make accusations of corruption that would never be allowed in the traditional media.Many overseas news websites were banned after running stories exposing the financial dealings of the families of several senior leaders.