China Requires Users to Provide Identification When Purchasing Cellphones

By: Judith Murphy

International Law Review

On September 1st of this year, in a legislative move pending since 2006, the Chinese government began requiring cellphone users, citizens as well as foreigners, to furnish identification when buying SIM cards.

According to China’s Ministry of Information and Information Technology (MIIT), the new identification law was passed in an effort to curb cellphone-based spam, pornography, and fraud schemes.  MIIT officials estimate that the average Chinese cellphone user receives a dozen spam messages a week, three out of four of which involve fraud.

Now, by law, 320 million of China’s 900 million cellphone users – those who did not previously provide the government with identification, have until 2013 to do so or else forfeit their service.

While China’s policy in this respect does not differ greatly from that of many other nations, as requirements that cellphone users present proof of identification are common across Asia, Europe, and Latin America, concern has nevertheless been sparked in the international community.  Wang Songlian, a research coordinator with Hong Kong’s Chinese Human Rights Defenders, posits that China passed its cellphone law because it became aware that protests can be fueled via text messages and wishes to gather information “for social stability reasons.”

Since 2008, China has tightened official censorship of internet and communication systems.  The government closes down microblogs it regards as subversive and has declined to make social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter available to the public.

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