The OpenNet Initiative has released a bulletin on China’s website registration policy. This mandates that all non-commercial websites hosted in China be registered with the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), whereas previously this applied only to commercial sites.
Failure to register a site by July 2005 was punishable by a ¥10 000 fine (about €1 000 and 2/3 of an average urban Chinese annual income) as well as removal the website. Sites are required to put their registration number at the center-bottom of the homepage. Failure to comply makes the owner liable for a ¥5 000 – 10 000 fine.
Enforcement is not only by the MII, but also by the hosting ISPs. This is encouraged by a ¥10 000 fine for hosting unregistered content. ISPs are also responsible for cutting off sites in violation of these rules, however IP/port blocks have also been reported, along with the consequent over-blocking of virtual hosts. The MII also operates the “Night Crawler” which searches for sites not displaying a registration number.
Rebecca MacKinnon suggests that this move might shift Chinese bloggers on to commercial sites such as MSN Spaces, Blogbus, Bokee or Sina, which implement their own keyword filtering to prevent themselves being blocked (as Typepad and Blogsome have been). This shifts the cost and accountability of censorship away from the government and to the edges, as has been done for registration enforcement. The remaining bloggers who maintain their own site will be required to register and so are more likely to self-censor.
The registration process is entirely online, and consists of the owner entering personal information (name, address, etc…) as well as the site description, an email address and mobile phone number. The registration request must then be reviewed by the MII and after a few days the owner is notified of the result and given the registration number if successful.
Interestingly, only the mobile phone number and email address are verified by sending a code to them, which ties in well to the compulsory mobile phone registration in December. Criminals in the UK have been known to steal mobile phones to give untraceable communication in the course of committing offences. Perhaps stolen phones will be used in China to produce fraudulent website registrations for people who would like to keep their anonymity?