When Zhang Lihong entered Suosi Internet cafe in Xicheng District, Beijing Oct. 16, she noticed something new on the counter- a machine with a digital camera and scanner.
"Please have your photo taken, and your ID card scanned here," the clerk stood up and said.
Zhang was confused and wanted to know why she had to do this. The clerk explained that authorities are trying to crack down on Internet misuse in the city.
The 24-year-old's photo and a copy of her resident identity card were sent to the Municipal Law Enforcement Agency of Beijing and placed in a file.
Zhang was then given a four-digit password, escorted to a computer, and told to enter her information on an interface to activate the computer.
"You don't need to go through the same process again when you visit Internet cafes like us," the clerk explained. "By providing your ID number, you can check in after we verify your filed information."
Zhang smiled as she started to surf the Internet.
"This is a reasonable measure. You spend two minutes and you can enjoy a healthier virtual world," she said. "Today, there are many hackers, net rumors being spread around and people sending erotic content. Now that users have their images taken, they dare not do bad things."
A spokeswoman from the Municipal Law Enforcement Agency of Beijing said 1,500 Internet cafes in 14 districts and counties of the city have the same device. It is called the Beijing Internet Cafe Customer Registration Device.
"By the middle of December, Internet cafes in another four districts and counties of Beijing will receive these devices," said the spokeswoman who wanted to remain anonymous.
"The new device annoyed me a lot at first," said Li Yunfei, the manager of Suosi Internet Cafe. "80% of my customers just went away when they saw the device. My cafe was like an empty classroom."
After a month, people become used to it, however, and Li's turnover recovered.
"After all, I need to use it, or I will be fined and will lose my reputation," Li said.
Jia Fei, the manager of Hailetong Internet Cafe, a chain with more than 500 computers, believes the new system makes his work more efficient.
"Now I can easily track the exact online time of my customers and when they switch to other computers," Jia said. "If someone commits Internet crimes, I can help the police to pin him."
Ma Zhengnan expressed relief when she heard about the new devices outside an Internet cafe near her 18-year-old son's high school.
"This can keep students away from indulging in computer games," Ma said.
However, some netizens dislike the law enforcement initiative.
"I will not go to Internet cafes any more," said Li Weiwei. "Who knows if my personal information is being exposed to people with bad motives."
(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2008)