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.