BEIJING — China wants people who buy new cellphone numbers to register their personal details, joining many European and Asian countries in curbing the anonymous use of mobile technology.
Most countries that have such rules say they prevent the use of unregistered phones in terror attacks or drug crimes. In China, authorities say they have their sights on rampant junk messages — but some believe the move gives the government a new tool for monitoring its citizens.
The regulation was “the latest campaign by the government to curb the global scourge of spam, pornographic messages, and fraud on cellular phones,’’ the China Daily newspaper reported. The rules that started yesterday apply to everyone, including foreigners on short visits.
Similar rules have been implemented in several Asian, European, and Latin American countries, often after phones were used to detonate bombs, organize terrorist attacks, or conduct criminal activities. Federal legislation has been introduced in the United States, where prepaid phones have long been used by drug dealers. In many places, however, the rules are easily skirted with fake IDs or false names.
But human rights advocates say China might be looking for a way to track people who spontaneously join protests. Users could previously buy low-cost mobile phone SIM cards anonymously with cash at convenience stores and newspaper stands and use them right away.
“I think the government has an eye on Iran, where protests were fueled by text messages and Twitter, and they are doing this for social stability reasons,’’ said Wang Songlian, research coordinator with the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders.