New regulations handed down by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology over the weekend seem to suggest China may be creating a “whitelist” of approved websites. The Ministry said it is now requiring all websites to register, or face possible blocking by the authorities.
China’s latest censorship move seems born out of an effort to limit pornography, however critics seem to see porn being used as an excuse for broader net controls. Whether or not this extends to websites based outside of the country is unclear, although Chinese media is reporting that it will. If it goes through, the strategy would be a complete reversal of the way Chinese Internet regulators were previously doing business.
Under the previous system, websites were blocked on a case by case basis as soon as the Ministry learned about them. Here, everybody seems blacklisted first — and have to prove their non-subversiveness before being allowed into the walled garden that is the Chinese Internet.
The idea may be dead in the water: China could hurt itself economically as those who use the Internet to trade goods may find themselves unable to do business if the foreign site does not register. Additionally, the country does have a fairly long record of coming up with half-baked censorship schemes that are either not enforced or reversed after international outcry. A whitelist is certainly something that would cause the latter, I’d venture to guess.
China also last week limited .cn registrations to business users, Time reported last Friday. As far as I know, it would be the only TLD where private citizens are prohibited from purchasing domains. I wonder if ICANN would have something to say about that.