Real names policy sparks privacy concerns

08:17, September 02, 2010      

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China Wednesday implemented a system requiring mobile phone users to provide their real names when buying a telephone number, in a move to combat spam and fraud.

As of Wednesday, new customers will have to register with their identity card numbers or other valid documents when buying a pre-paid SIM card from mobile phone operators.

Foreigners living in China are also required to register with their passports or ID cards to subscribe.

In Beijing, street newspaper stands were told by the Beijing Post to suspend selling mobile phone SIM cards until revised phone number selling procedures are devised. The Beijing Post supplies newspapers, magazines and telephone subscription cards to newspaper stands in the Chinese capital.

For those who have already bought pre-paid mobile phone SIM cards, the operators -- China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom -- will renew their registration in a gradual way and their mobile phone services will not be affected.

Mobile phone users in China exceeded 800 million at the end of June while fixed-line users numbered 300 million, according to MIIT figures.

Before the new system, standard mobile phone users and fixed-line telephone customers had to register with their real names when subscribing.

Hong Daode, a professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, said the registration of mobile phone users' real names will deter spammers and fraudsters.

"Police can easily track down criminal suspects if they use their mobile phones to commit telecom fraud," Hong said

The new requirement, however, has sparked concern about possible leakage of personal ID numbers and other personal information.

"Privacy is an issue that concerns many people," said Lu Tingjie, professor and faculty dean at the School of Economics and Management at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

"An operator who better protects users' privacy will attract more customers in the future," he said.

Lu said the key to implementing the new system will be whether police can effectively crack down on the use of fake ID cards and falsified documents.

"Faking IDs is a common phenomenon in Chinese society, and it is not only a problem for the telecommunication industry - it is a problem for society at large," he said.

Others have doubts. They say it won't be easy to implement the new rule.

"I don't feel that good about the new rule. It's unrealistic. If someone brings their ID card to register at my stall, I can't tell whether the ID is fake or not," said a newsstand owner in downtown Beijing reluctant to give his name.

The official timetable for the renewed registration of current mobile phone users is still unknown, as telecommunications operators are still waiting for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the telecommunications industry regulator, to give details of the new system's implementation.

According to some industry analysts, operators will have to update information for about 320 million unregistered mobile phone users after the system takes effect.

Zhou Hanhua, a professor at the Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, predicted difficulties for implementation of the new system.

Zhou said risks and costs outweigh the benefits of the new system due to the increased costs and lack of supporting laws and regulations to protect people's privacy.

"Costs for telecommunications operators and mobile phone number users and sellers will increase when the system is implemented. It is simply unreasonable from an economic standpoint," Zhou said.

"The new system risks the leaking of personal information and may lead to the abuse of the information," Zhou added.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王寒露)

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