The Chinese government has issued a draft regulation that potentially could see domain names registered outside China blocked.
It is believed the new regulations would bolster China’s Great Firewall that already blocks many websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many foreign news websites. It would also likely see the government make “its powers and the limits of dissent more explicit and public rather than denying their existence,” according to the Financial Times.
Article 37 of the draft states:
Domain names engaging in network access within the borders shall have services provided by domestic domain name registration service bodies, and domestic domain name registration management bodies shall carry out operational management.
For domain names engaging in network access within the borders, but which are not managed by domestic domain name registration service bodies, internet access service providers may not provide network access services.
Experts were still studying the draft rules on Tuesday. Charlie Smith of Greatfire.org, a website devoted to monitoring Chinese online censorship, told the FT the wording appeared to be purposefully vague, which in practice could allow enforcement agencies to do with it what they wished. “I think the language being used is probably not exactly clear and that the authorities have purposely made things unclear and open to interpretation or, as the case may be, misinterpretation” he said.
“Authorities are seeking feedback on the draft till April 25,” according to Bloomberg. “If adopted, the new rules mean that, instead of blacklisting specific sites, the government will grant access only to websites that make it onto a white-list, said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who has advised Google on freedom of expression and the Internet.”
“This is a serious escalation and from what I can see would be an unprecedented move,” Tsui said in an email to Bloomberg. “It doesn’t seem exclusive to .cn.”
The New York Times reports “it was not clear whether the rule would apply to all websites or only to those hosted on servers in China. Chinese laws can be haphazardly enforced and are usually vague, and because the new rule is only a draft, analysts said they expected the regulator, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, to specify later to whom the law would apply.”
The New York Times goes on to report that:
If the rule applies to all websites, it will have major implications and will effectively cut China out of the global Internet. By creating a domestic registry for websites, the rule would create a system of censorship in which only websites that have specifically registered with the Chinese government would be reachable from within the country.
Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said he believed that under the current wording, the law would block foreign websites not registered with China.
“I think the draft mostly tries to address Internet security and the large amount of pornographic websites and other websites that violate Chinese laws,” he said. “Most of those domains are registered abroad. It is not easy to tackle them.”
Other experts, however, said the law would probably apply only to websites hosted in China.
“I think these regulations are about content hosted in China,” said Rogier Creemers, a lecturer on Chinese politics at Oxford University. “It can be that they expand in the future.” He pointed out that if the rules applied to all websites, they would eliminate access overnight to a huge chunk of the Internet.
If the law applies only to sites hosted in China, it would still represent a consolidation of power by Beijing. Forcing registration with Chinese entities is likely to create a new boom in domain-name service registrars. At the moment, Alibaba operates China’s primary domain-name service provider, called Wan Wang.