China Imposes New Web Cafe Rules

Internet cafes must keep records of what information and sites customers visit for two months.

by / October 14, 2002
BEIJING (AP) -- China has imposed strict new limits on Internet cafes, banning minors and demanding that operators keep records of customers and the information they access.

The regulations, which take effect Nov. 15, also impose tougher safety standards for the popular cafes that provide Internet access to users who pay by the session. Smoking is banned, no cafe can operated within 124 feet of a school, and the businesses must close by midnight, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Customers are also prohibited from viewing Internet sites offering gambling, pornography or prostitution.

Many of the regulations, including a requirement to register Internet users, were already on the books in Beijing. But the government added new restrictions and decided to apply them nationwide after an August fire in an Internet cafe in the capital killed 25 people.

But the new rules also reflect the fear of China's communist leaders that the Internet could nurture subversion.

The regulations ban Internet cafe patrons from accessing a broad array of politically sensitive Internet sites, including ones that discuss independence movements in Tibet and the western region of Xinjiang or the sovereignty of Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.

The rules also forbid information that "threatens national security or harms national dignity and national interests."

Operators must keep records of users and the sites they access for two months and provide the information on request to police and regulators. Violators face fines equal to $1,800.

Xinhua said the rules aim to bring order to an industry that has expanded rapidly with little regulation.

China has more than 45 million Internet users, most of whom gain access from connections at home or in the office.

Already, China operates a special force to police the Internet for content deemed subversive. Scores of Web sites are blocked due to their content and the search engines Google and AltaVista have been blocked because they permit access to information on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and other sensitive topics.

All of Beijing's Internet cafes were shut after the August fire in a cafe in the capital's university district that killed 25 people. Other parts of the country followed suit, though most have since allowed them to reopen. Two boys were sentenced to life in prison for setting the fire.

Copyright 2002. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.