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Beijing Net cafes to take mug shots, scan IDs

To cut down on "ID sharing," the Chinese government requires first-time visitors have their picture taken and ID scanned before being allowed online. What are the privacy ramifications?

In a purported effort to cut down on "ID sharing" in Beijing's Internet cafes, the government will require that by the end of 2008, first-time visitors will have their picture taken and ID scanned before being allowed online, according to The Beijing News and the China Media Project.

Users were already required to show identification when they entered, a rule that has been spottily enforced at times but more strictly, by most accounts, since preparations for the Olympics began. David Bandurski at China Media Project writes:

The newspaper quoted Li Fei (李菲), a spokesperson for the Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency, as saying the policy was aimed at preventing "ID sharing" (一证多用). The monitoring platform will allow enforcement officials to target any terminal at any Internet bar in the city to compare the user with registered information.

Perhaps this is indeed aimed at "ID sharing," but another piece that Bandurski quotes, an editorial in the China Youth Daily, sees the new policy as creating the potential for invasion of privacy.

In this monitoring system that renders users "naked," how will the freedom and privacy of citizens using the Internet be protected? The Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency reassures us that these controls end with the enforcement team's monitoring platform and that we "have no need to be concerned about the leaking of personal information."

But aside from worrying that personal information might be leaked to others, we also worry that the freedom of our online communication and the privacy of our conversations will be betrayed by public power.

Under this platform of "monitoring of any terminal at any Internet bar in the city," won't monitoring mean that enforcement officials will have the right or the opportunity to view our chat histories? Can they not read our private correspondence at will? Won't any and all online behavior fall under the eyes of the enforcement officials?

If this is the case, then all Web users really are "entirely naked," if only before a limited number of enforcement personnel.

Read a fuller quote from the editorial in Bandurski's post.