China requires ID to buy mobile phone numbers

China began requiring identification on Wednesday from anyone purchasing a new mobile phone number in what it says is a bid to stamp out rampant junk messages but that some say is raising new privacy concerns.

The new rules apply to everyone, including foreigners visiting China for a short stay, the China Daily newspaper reported.

The paper said the regulation was “the latest campaign by the government to curb the global scourge of spam, pornographic messages and fraud on cellular phones.”

Low-cost mobile phone SIM cards are readily available in China, offered for sale at convenience stores, newspaper stands and at airport kiosks. Users could previously buy cards anonymously with cash and use them right away, a system that has made it difficult to track down spammers.

The China Daily said that mobile users in China receive an average of 43 text messages a week, including 12 that are spam.

The ID requirement is raising new privacy concerns and will likely upset some customers unwilling to give personal information to vendors and telecom companies for fear it will be resold, said Duncan Clark, managing director of BDA China Ltd., a technology market research firm.

China has more than 800 million mobile phone numbers already in use. The Global Times newspaper reported Wednesday that about 320 million of those were purchased without real-name registration. They will have to be reregistered by 2013 or could be suspended, it said.

China Unicom, one of the country’s three major state-owned phone carriers, issued a notice on its website on Aug. 20 saying that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology had informed them that real-name registration would be required for all new telephone number purchases starting Sept. 1. An official with China Unicom’s press office, Wen Baoqiu, said the company would strictly implement the new rule.

“It will help reduce spam and fraudulent text messages, and also help us improve service to customers,” Wen said.

China Mobile — the world’s biggest phone carrier by subscribers — was also complying with the directive, said a customer service representative who would only give his surname, Zhang.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology did not respond to questions about the new rules and a man who answered the phone at the ministry’s press office refused to comment.

Associated Press