The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has announced a plan to enforce a “real-name” registration system for mobile phone users.
The announcement comes four years after the Ministry of Information Industry—which subsequently became the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology—drew up the framework for similar legislation. Despite much talk of enforcement, the 2006 plan failed to meet the final approval of the State Council.
The new plan for mobile phone registration has materialized as the second phase of a “porn sweep” carried out by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. According to a People’s Postal report, due to the increasing instances of pornographic material accessed on 3G cellular phones, the ministry hopes to pass a stipulation by the end of 2010 requiring the registration of name and ID number upon purchase of mobile services.
The plan has met with both praise and criticism. According to an article at the Legal Mirror, cell phone users in China see the measure as a “fundamental cure” for junk text messaging and the notorious “single ring” scams in which a user’s phone rings once and, upon calling the number back, is charged or hit with an advertisement.
A program at Youku.com discusses a registration stipulation in May of last year awaiting State Council approval in Guangdong Province. The program cites a netizen’s affirmation of the system:
…What’s there to be afraid of? Since [the introduction of a real-name registration system], those committing crimes through text messaging have certainly been reduced. The level of difficulty for authorities to control and attack ‘information crime’ has also been greatly reduced.
Yet some investigative journalism conducted by the Legal Mirror’s Wang Shaoyan has revealed some possible shortcomings in the system. Although a registration system has already been enforced in Beijing, Wang had no problem purchasing mobile phone service from multiple phone card distributors without an ID.
This reporter randomly surveyed a few phone card distributors. One shop selling phone card numbers had a bunch of card numbers written on cardboard at the door. When the reporter said he hadn’t brought his ID card, the shop owner said not to worry about it and pulled out a user registration form to be filled out. But [the owner] obviously didn’t care if the reporter’s name and ID number weren’t real…When asked if he was aware that a registration system would be enforced at the end of the year, the owner shook his head: “It’s not realistic. We don’t have any way of inspecting [ID] here, and I can’t ask my customers to let me see their ID. Wouldn’t I be putting myself out of business?”
An article at Tongxin Chanye Post not only called the system inefficient but claimed the collection of personal information required to carry out registration was a risk to consumer privacy:
As the communications market develops, mobile network operators and distribution channels become more complex and harder to manage. Who will be responsible for the confidentiality of user information? Name, age, place of origin, phone number: What a complete and valuable collection of sellable information.
Chinese cell phone users will have to wait and see whether the stipulation is approved nationwide. If approved, the level of enforcement and degree of efficiency in handling mobile phone scams and pornographic material is still under question.