China needs your ID to buy mobile phone numbers

From today China is requiring people to have ID with them when buying a new mobile phone number, which is being seen by some as another way for the government to have a peek into the lives of its minions, er, citizens.

The Beijing government insisted that the ID scheme is intended to get rid of spam text messages. The China Daily newspaper cited research that showed an average of 43 text messages per mobile per week, with 12 of those identified as spam. With such a high volume of spam, it’s no surprise that a method to tackle it is badly needed.

Some people are not buying that story, however. China censors the internet, blocking access to popular websites like Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. Requiring ID for mobile phones allows the government to track people and block areas if it deems it necessary, which China already does for those considered as dissidents.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders said that this is just another method for the government to tighten control over new technology, which it considers a threat to its authority. It said that Beijing is most likely fearful of a situation arising where text and Twitter messages fuel widespread protests, like those that occured in Iran. “They are doing this for social stability reasons.”

All of China’s major telecommunications companies, including China Unicom and China Mobile, have said they will comply with the new rule. However, local stores and markets are not as unified. SIM cards can be bought at these places extremely cheap and some believe requiring ID may put potential buyers off, including tourists, who will also be required to provide ID. Some shopkeepers wondered how ID cards would stop spam and suggested that serial spammers would just use fake ID.

For the 800 million mobile phone numbers currently in use in China, only the owners of 320 million will need to worry, as the rest already used ID when purchasing their new numbers. The 320 million will have to register their identity within the next three years or face the possibility of having their numbers suspended.