Washington International Law Journal


China has implemented comprehensive online real-name registration rules, which require Internet users to disclose their identities. Chinese national law has required most online service providers to implement real-name registration since 2012. This article uses the real-name registration rules to illustrate the supremacy and limitations of the Network Authoritarian Model (NAM), an approach leveraging corporate resources for political surveillance and occasionally adopted by the Chinese party-state. By addressing the evolution of real-name registration rules in China, this article illustrates the party-state’s gradual efforts in both eliminating cyberspace anonymity and etching Chinese characteristics on the architecture of the Internet. Although the Chinese government has faced serious challenges in enforcing the real-name registration policy and current enforcement is far from satisfactory, China is not alone in promoting such a policy. Major Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, have expressed similar interests in requiring users to register their real names. Moreover, policymakers in developed and developing countries are exploring similarly themed regulations and China, therefore, may well be in the vanguard of the global movement for online real-name registration. Nonetheless, requiring real-name registration in China has not only created huge costs for Internet companies, but also given rise to fierce controversy associated with free speech, privacy, and law enforcement. In this article, we identify several important legal and policy implications of the Chinese real-name registration policy. We also illustrate the foremost predicament currently faced by the Chinese party-state in enforcing the policy. This analysis argues that China may create a “spillover effect” in jurisdictions outside China as well as in the global Internet architecture.

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