Businesses, public pan WiFi monitoring

Updated: 2011-07-28 15:52

By Cao Yin and Yu Ran (China Daily)

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BEIJING - A regulation that requires bars, restaurants, hotels and bookstores to install expensive Web-monitoring software has sparked controversy among business owners and the public.

The software, which is designed to supervise illegal activities by passing the identities of customers using free wireless services to public security departments, will cost business owners 20,000 yuan ($3,100). Those who refuse to pay and offer unfettered Internet access may face a 15,000-yuan fine.

Ye Jia, a cafe owner in Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng district, told China Daily that her brother was asked to install the software during a meeting at the district's public security bureau on July 22.

"All small businesses with WiFi in our area attended that meeting," she said. "But I won't use the software, because I can't afford the costly fees.

"If the restriction on the wireless service is put into effect, my cafe will be affected and I won't be able to keep offering this service."

Many business owners in the city who had not heard about the new regulation expressed disapproval when they were told how much the installation would cost.

"It's a requirement of the public security organs. Why should we pay the fees?" said Yang Xiaowen, manager of UBC Coffee in Chaoyang district.

A 40-year-old customer surnamed Guan using the WiFi in a Sculpting in Time cafe in Chaoyang district said she thought the regulation violated her privacy.

"I don't want to be watched. It will make me uncomfortable," said Guan, who works for a consulting company.

Another customer named Zhou Li, 29, an administrative employee, said she did not care about the regulation and will do private online work at home instead of in public.

Yi Shenghua, a Beijing-based lawyer at Ying Ke Law Firm, said he did not support the regulation, which is similar to one that applies to Internet bars. He said business owners should not have to pay for the monitoring software.

The Beijing municipal public security bureau had not responded to these criticisms by Wednesday.

"I have known about it and we are studying the issue at present," said Zi Xiangdong, spokesman for the bureau, who declined to make any further comment.

A report in Beijing News said the public security department revealed that the regulation has been introduced in the capital and will be applied across the country.

Cafe owners contacted by China Daily reporters in Shanghai, and in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, said they had been notified of the new measure.

In addition, the developer of the program, Shanghai Rain-Soft Software, did not comment. A receptionist at the company said: "Our manager has been away on a business trip and won't be back until August, so there is no one available to explain the software."

Xu Wei contributed to this story.