By Ellen Nakashima and Cecilia Kang
Thursday, March 25, 2010; 3:48 PM
Two major Internet domain name registration companies have ceased registering Web sites in China in response to intrusive new government rules that require applicants to provide extensive personal data, including photographs of themselves.
The rules, Go Daddy said, are an effort by China to increase monitoring and surveillance of Web site content and could put individuals who register their sites with the firm at risk. The company also said the rules will have a "chilling effect" on new domain name registrations.
The decisions come amid a showdown between China and Google, which recently announced it will no longer censor search results on its site in the country. Analysts and human rights advocates have warned that China's insistence on censorship and control over information is becoming a serious barrier to trade.
Go Daddy announced its decision at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
"Go Daddy and Google deserve more than praise for doing the right thing in China -- they deserve our government's support," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who has sponsored a bill that would prevent U.S. companies from sharing personal user information with "Internet-restricting" countries.
In December, China began to enforce a new policy that required any registrant of a new .cn domain name to provide a color, head-and-shoulders photograph and other business identification, including a Chinese business registration number and physical, signed registration forms. That data was to be forwarded to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a quasi-governmental agency. Most domain name registries require only a name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.
"We were immediately concerned about the motives behind the increased level of registrant verification being required," Christine N. Jones, general counsel of the Go Daddy Group, told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. "The intent of the procedures appeared, to us, to be based on a desire by the Chinese authorities to exercise increased control over the subject matter of domain name registrations by Chinese nationals."
Go Daddy has been registering domain names since 2000 and has more than 40 million domain names under management.
Jones said China was the first government to retroactively seek additional verification and documentation of registrants.
Jones also said Go Daddy customers with Chinese domain names have recently been attacked more frequently than in the past. The sites targeted tend to be those "deemed not appropriate" by Beijing -- sites that contain content about the Tiananmen Square uprising or human rights, for instance.
"When our sites get shut down in China, we are never told why . . . and it's impossible to know why," Jones said.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Network Solutions said it stopped taking new accounts in China last December, according to spokeswoman Susan Wade.
"Of course the decision affects our businesses, but it also didn't make business sense to operate under their change of procedures," she said.
Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, said China's new rules are yet another example of the country tightening its censorship policies and undermining the ability of U.S. companies to operate freely.
"The underlying intent is if you're engaging in political speech, we want to know who's engaging in it and what Web site is behind it," Ganesan said. "This is a way the Chinese government can send a chilling message to people that they shouldn't speak freely online. It's forcing us companies to be both the censor and the spy on behalf of the Chinese government."
Jones said Go Daddy's decision to stop registering new domains was unrelated to Google's recent decision.
"With all due respect, this has nothing to do with Google," she said. She added that the company had been deliberating what it would do about its business in China before Google's announcement.
"We decided we didn't want to be agents of China," she said.
At Wednesday's hearing, Alan Davidson, Google's director of public policy, said governments worldwide should develop new rules to combat unfair trade barriers online and should make Internet freedom part of the criteria for receiving development aid. He noted that the number of governments that routinely censor the Internet has grown from a handful in 2002 to more than 40 today.