China's government will require Internet users to identify themselves to service providers when they sign up for Internet access, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Lawmakers in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body, approved the Internet identity rules on Friday, according to a Xinhua report on the website of the China Daily newspaper. The rules, which have the effect of law, are intended to help protect personal information and "safeguard public interests," the report said.
Requiring Internet users to give their real identities has been one of the methods used to control Internet use in China. In March, Beijing's city government started requiring users of Chinese microblogging sites to provide their state-issued identification numbers when signing up for accounts that let them post entries on the sites.
The microblogging sites, such as the popular Sina Weibo, are similar to Twitter, which has been blocked in China. Identity regulations have been promoted as steps to protect users and eliminate rumours on the sites. However, identity requirements have also been seen as another way to control social networking services in China, which in some cases have become forums for criticizing the government. When the Beijing government imposed its rules, some users criticised the new requirements.
The rules approved on Friday go beyond social networking sites to include all users of the Internet. The Xinhua report did not give details on how the or when the rules will be imposed.
The rules say that any wireline or mobile service provider should demand that users provide true information about their identities when setting up new service agreements or confirming the provision of services, according to a report in The New York Times. Users would still be allowed to use pseudonyms on Internet-based services, the report said.