China completes Internet, phone monitoring scheme for Tibet

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has completed a monitoring scheme in restive Tibet that requires all telephone and internet users to register under their real names, state media said on Wednesday, as part of a campaign to crack down on what officials describe as rumors.

Tibetans are already closely watched, due to decades of often violent unrest in protest at Chinese rule, which Beijing blames on exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

By the end of last year, all 2.76 million fixed line and mobile telephone users and 1.47 million internet users in the remote region had registered for services under their real identities, Xinhua news agency said.

The scheme “is conducive to protecting citizens’ personal information and curbing the spread of detrimental information” the report quoted government official Nyima Doje as saying.

The growing popularity of the Internet and mobile phones has “brought about social problems, including the rampant circulation of online rumors, pornography and spam messages”, another official, Dai Jianguo, said.

“The real-name registration will help resolve these problems while benefiting the long-term, sound development of the internet,” Dai added, according to Xinhua.

The central Chinese government last year passed a law mandating the use of real names to register for internet services and also began forcing users of Sina Corp’s wildly successful Weibo microblogging platform to register their real names.

Enforcement of similar rules for cellphones, especially pay-as-you-go services, is often lax, though.

China has defended its iron-fisted rule in Tibet, saying the remote region suffered from dire poverty, brutal exploitation of serfs and economic stagnation until 1950, when Communist troops “peacefully liberated” it.

The Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He denies Chinese charges of stoking violence in Tibet.

China’s announcement of the successful completion of the telephone and internet monitoring program in Tibet comes as Chinese media and the government have expressed indignation at accusations of mass surveillance by the United States.

The explosive revelations of the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying programs were made by Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor now holed up in Hong Kong, a China-controlled city.

The former British colony is supposed to enjoy wide-ranging autonomy and broad freedoms denied to people in mainland China, including an independent judiciary and free press.

Since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, however, the city’s pro-democracy politicians and activists have complained that Beijing has been steadily eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms, despite constitutional safeguards.

China demanded on Monday that Washington explain its monitoring programs to the international community, though China itself routinely monitors its own population.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez