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China's new leaders to tighten Internet restrictions

This week, China's legislature considered a measure that would require Internet users to register their real names, just one of several efforts by the new communist leadership to tighten control over the Internet. 

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Some industry analysts suggest allowing Web surfers in a controlled setting to vent helps communist leaders stay abreast of public sentiment in their fast-changing society. Still, microblog services and online bulletin boards are required to employ censors to enforce content restrictions. Researchers say they delete millions of postings a day.

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The government says the latest Internet regulation before the National People's Congress is aimed at protecting Web surfers' personal information and cracking down on abuses such as junk e-mail. It would require users to report their real names to Internet service and telecom providers.

The main ruling party newspaper, People's Daily, has called in recent weeks for tighter Internet controls, saying rumors spread online have harmed the public. In one case, it said stories about a chemical plant explosion resulted in the deaths of four people in a car accident as they fled the area.

Proposed rules released this month by the General Administration of Press and Publications would bar Chinese-foreign joint ventures from publishing books, music, movies and other material online in China. Publishers would be required to locate their servers in China and have a Chinese citizen as their local legal representative.

That is in line with rules that already bar most foreign access to China's media market, but the decision to group the restrictions together and publicize them might indicate official attitudes are hardening.

That comes after the party was rattled by foreign news reports about official wealth and misconduct.

In June, Bloomberg News reported that Xi's extended family has amassed assets totaling $376 million, though it said none was traced to Xi. The government has blocked access to Bloomberg's website since then.

In October, The New York Times reported that Premier Wen Jiabao's relatives had amassed $2.7 billion since he rose to national office in 2002. Access to the Times' Chinese-language site has been blocked since then.

Previous efforts to tighten controls have struggled with technical challenges in a country with more than 500 million Internet users.

Microblog operators such as Sina Corp. and Tencent Ltd. were ordered in late 2011 to confirm users' names but have yet to finish the daunting task.

Web surfers can circumvent government filters by using virtual private networks — software that encrypts Web traffic and is used by companies to transfer financial data and other sensitive information. But VPN users say disruptions that began in 2011 are increasing, suggesting Chinese regulators are trying to block encrypted traffic.

Curbs on access to foreign sites have prompted complaints by companies and Chinese scientists and other researchers.

In July, the American Chamber of Commerce in China said 74 percent of companies that responded to a survey said unstable Internet access "impedes their ability to do business."

Chinese leaders "realize there are detrimental impacts on business, especially foreign business, but they have counted the cost and think it is still worthwhile," said Lam. "There is no compromise about the political imperative of controlling the Internet."

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