Originally created 11/06/02

Access-card required for Internet cafe users in part of China



BEIJING -- A Chinese province has required Internet cafe users to buy access cards that identify them to police, further tightening official monitoring of who uses the Internet and what they do online, a police spokesman said Monday.

The system was installed in all 3,200 Internet cafes in the central province of Jiangxi last month, said the spokesman, who works with the police computer crime division in the provincial capital of Nanchang.

"This system gives us more power to prevent crimes and identify criminals on the Internet," said the spokesman, who wouldn't give his name.

Although China has 45 million regular Internet users, the communist authorities are intent on preventing the Net becoming a forum for free speech, as well as blocking access to gambling, pornography and extremist Web sites.

Sites run by foreign media, religious and human rights groups are also blocked. Webmasters are warned to cut off subversive talk in Internet chat rooms, and a special police force filters e-mail and searches the Web for forbidden content.

Internet cafes have spread from the cities to small towns across China, although most Chinese access the Internet at home or at work. Embraced for their commercial potential, they are also viewed as possible havens for gambling, pornography and online gaming.

Internet cafes were closed in Beijing and many parts of the country after a deadly fire at one in the capital's university district earlier this year. Authorities have used the disaster to tighten supervision and say they will reopen the cafes only under stricter scrutiny - including barring all minors.

Jiangxi's system requires customers to register their names, ages and addresses, information which is then loaded into a police database, the police spokesman said.

They get an access card, which is swiped on an identifying machine when they go online. That sends a signal to police who continuously monitor the Web for people attempting to reach barred sites. Police can also block access to selected cardholders.

More than 200,000 users have obtained such cards so far, the official said.