(Updated August 12, 2014)
The State Internet Information Office (国家互联网信息办公室), the top government agency that oversees online content management, issued, on August 7, a set of regulations on mobile instant messaging services—such as WeChat (Tencent), Yixin (NetEase), and Feixin (China Mobile)—including specific provisions regulating dissemination of “current political news.”
Mobile instant messaging services experienced a phenomenal growth in China since the introduction of WeChat in January 2011. These services enable instant sharing of information among members of groups, and by accounts to all their subscribers. Users can also generate links for information that they can share via email and on weibo.
The SIIO states that the “Provisional Regulations to Manage the Development of Instant Messaging Tools in Providing Public Information Services” (即时通信工具公众信息服务发展管理暂行规定) have been formulated to “protect the lawful rights and interests of citizens … and safeguard state security and public interests.” (See HRIC translation below.)
Some of the provisions codify industry practices such as real-name registration of account users, other provisions, Article 7, in particular, raise concerns about potential impact on freedom of expression and access to information online, as well as account users’ right to privacy.
Specifically, Article 7 requires:
The lack of a definition of “current political news” in the regulations* leaves the door open to restrictions on expression and access to information that are inconsistent with international human rights standards.
*While the new regulations do not provide a definition of “current political news” (时政类新闻), a set of regulations jointly issued by the Ministry of Information Industry and the State Council Information Office in 2005 does. Article 2 of the Provisions on the Administration of Internet News Information Services characterized “current political news” as including “reporting and commentary relating to politics, economics, military affairs, foreign affairs, and social and public affairs, as well as reporting and commentary relating to fast-breaking social events.” (Thanks to Flora Sapio, Research Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, for bringing to our attention the characterization of “current political news” provided in the 2005 regulations.)
Provisional Regulations to Manage the Development of Instant Messaging Tools
in Providing Public Information Services
August 7, 2014
[Translation by Human Rights in China]
Source text at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2014-08/07/c_1111979566.htm
Article 1. These Regulations are formulated in order to further advance the healthy and orderly development of instant messaging tools in providing public information services; protect the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons, and other organizations; and safeguard state security and public interests, in accordance with the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Safeguarding Internet Security, Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Strengthening Information Protection on Networks, Interpretation by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate of Certain Issues Concerning Applicable Laws in the Handling of Defamation through Information Networks and Other Criminal Cases, Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services, Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services, and other relevant laws and regulations.
Article 2. These Regulations apply to instant messaging tools that provide public information services in the territory of the People’s Republic of China.
The term “instant messaging tools” as mentioned in these regulations refers to Internet-based applications which provide instant information exchange services to end users. The term “public information services” as mentioned in these regulations refers to the activities of disseminating information to the public through public accounts using instant messaging tools and other means.
Article 3. The State Internet Information Office is responsible for the overall planning, coordination, and guidance of the development of instant messaging tools in providing public information services. The provincial administrative departments for Internet information contents are responsible for relevant work within their respective administrative areas.
Internet industry organizations should play an active role in strengthening industry self-discipline, promoting the establishment of a credibility assessment system for the industry, and advancing the healthy and orderly development of the industry.
Article 4. Instant messaging tools service providers should obtain relevant qualifications as specified by laws and regulations. Instant messaging tools service providers engaging in public information service activities should obtain credentials to provide Internet news information services.
Article 5. Instant messaging tools service providers should fulfill security management responsibilities, establish and improve various systems, allocate professionals suitable for the scale of their services, protect user information and citizens’ privacy, consciously accept social supervision, and deal with unlawful and harmful information reported by the public in a timely manner.
Article 6. Instant messaging tools service providers should, in accordance with the principle of “real name on back-end, voluntary [information] on front-end,” require instant messaging tools service users to undergo real identity information verification before creating accounts.
When instant messaging tools service users create accounts, they should sign an agreement with instant messaging tools service providers to commit to adhering to the “seven bottom lines,” including laws and regulations, the socialist system, state interests, citizens’ lawful rights and interests, public order, social morality, and information veracity.
Article 7. The public accounts that instant messaging tools service users create to engage in public information service activities should be inspected and verified by instant messaging tools service providers, who should file these accounts by category with the departments in charge of Internet information contents.
The public accounts created by news units and news websites may disseminate or repost current political news. Public accounts created by non-news units credentialed to provide Internet news information services may repost current political news. Other public accounts may not disseminate or repost current political news without approval.
Instant messaging tools service providers should mark with a symbol public accounts that may disseminate or repost current political news.
All levels of Party and government agencies, enterprises, and institutions, and all people’s organizations are encouraged to create public accounts, serve economic and social development, and meet public demands.
Article 8. Instant messaging tools service users engaging in public information service activities should comply with relevant laws and regulations.
When instant messaging tools service users violate the agreement terms, instant messaging tools service providers should take measures to warn, restrict posting, suspend updates, or close the accounts in accordance with the circumstances, keep relevant records, and fulfill the obligations to report to the relevant departments in charge.
Article 9. Relevant departments shall deal with the acts in violation of these regulations in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.
Article 10. These regulations shall enter into force on the date of promulgation.
(Translation updated August 12, 2014)
See two other translations: