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China: Another Cell Phone Registration System in the Works

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:

。。。有啥可怕,如此一来,利用手机短信犯罪的肯定少了,警方管控和打击“信息犯罪”的难度也大为降低。

…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.

记者对几个手机号码代售点随机调查。一家出售手机卡号的小店,门口纸板上写满了出售的手机卡号。记者表示没有带身份证后,店主称没关系,随后他拿出了一张用户登记表让记者填写,但记者所登记的姓名、身份证号是否真实则明显不关心…在问及是否知道明年底要推行实名制时,店主连连摇头:“不现实,我们这里没法查验,而且我也不可能要求客人给我看身份证,这不是自断财路吗?”

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:

通信市场越发达,运营商及其分销渠道就越错综复杂、难以管控。谁来负责用户信息的保密性?姓名+年龄+户籍地址+手机号码:多么完整而宝贵的数据库营销资源。

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.

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