China requires cell phone subscriber IDs

New subscribers are asked for identification and existing subscribers are being encouraged to register their IDs with their numbers in what the Chinese government calls a crackdown on spam and fraud.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read
China has about 800 million mobile phone subscriber accounts.
China has about 800 million mobile phone subscriber accounts. Ministry of Industry and Information Technology/Xinhuanet

Mobile phone users in China are now being asked to provide identification when they set up a new account and existing accounts will eventually need to provide ID, according to reports.

The new rules, which took effect on Wednesday, apply to everyone buying a phone or SIM (subscriber identity module) card, including foreigners and short-term visitors. The requirement was adopted to curb rampant spam, porn, and telecom fraud, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said, according to Xinhuanet, the Web site of the official Chinese government news agency.

But the move also will give the government, already criticized for stomping out free speech by human rights groups, even greater ability to monitor the citizens and their communications. There are about 800 million mobile subscriber accounts in China, according to the government telecom agency.

Some mobile phone users who have registered already say that after doing so they received unsolicited marketing calls. "I have received several phone calls from insurance and property companies who identified my name, age and working unit on the phone," Zhang Rui, a registered mobile phone user, told the Global Times.

China isn't the only government trying to keep tabs on its mobile phone using citizens. India wants to be able to monitor communications of BlackBerry users and had threatened to shut down the service in the country. BlackBerry maker RIM averted the ban by offering some proposals and the Indian government is evaluating them.

And in the U.S., Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, and Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, have proposed a bill that would require buyers of prepaid cell phones to show identification to help authorities track criminals and terrorists.