China asks new cell phone users for ID

Starting Wednesday, mobile phone users in China must provide identification when registering for an account, setting off concerns over privacy in the world's largest wireless market.

The Chinese government argues that anonymity has led to the proliferation of spam, fraud and pornography. A government center reports that the average Chinese mobile user receives a dozen spam messages per week. China has more than 814 million mobile subscribers and is adding five million per month.

Chinese officials have discussed implementing an identity-based registration system for mobile users for years, a similar policy to those in the U.S. and other Western nations that require proof of identification or residence when signing up for a new account. According to Nielsen, 87 percent of Chinese mobile users have prepaid phone plans that don't require them to provide identification, compared to less than 20 percent of American users.

But the issue of anonymity is especially salient in China, where the government is known to censor Web content and crack down on users posting information deemed politically sensitive. The anonymity provided by Web-enabled mobile phones has allowed the Chinese people far greater latitude to share information and question the ruling Communist Party without fearing reprisal.

The rule will be implemented by China's three main wireless carriers, all of which are controlled by the government.