New regulations on internet use in China have been condemned by a media rights watchdog as an effort to tighten political control and a "disturbing step backwards" for online freedoms.
Under the new regulations announced on Tuesday that potential individual operators must submit their identity cards and photos of themselves.
The applicants are also required to personally meet regulators and representatives of service providers before being registered.
The country's ministry of industry and information technology said the news rule was aimed at cracking down on pornography.
The ministry issued the new guidelines to local authorities on February 8 and lifted a ban imposed in December on individuals acquiring .cn domain names, state media said on Tuesday.
The state-sanctioned Chinese group that assigns domain names froze registration of individuals after government media accused it of failing to check whether their sites provided pornographic content.
|The government is considering whether to continue Google to operate in China [AFP]
The new regulations come as Beijing is in talks with Google Inc about whether the US-based internet search giant will be allowed to continue operating in China after it said it would no longer cooperate in web censorship.
Recently the US stepped up pressure on Beijing to break down its vast system of web controls - the so-called Great Firewall of China - for the more than 380 million people now online in the country.
Washington issued those calls after Google said last month it was considering pulling out of China over cyber-attacks and Chinese government censorship of its search results.
China has the world's biggest online population, and the government operates the world's most extensive system of web monitoring and filtering.
The government says it censors the web to curb "unhealthy" content including porn and violence, but critics counter it is mainly trying to prevent the posting of information that challenges the ruling Communist Party.
Authorities have launched repeated crackdowns on online pornography and the government says nearly 5,400 people were detained last year.
"What netizen will dare to criticise the regime after meeting the person who could put them behind bars for one wrong word?"
Reporters Without Borders statement
Following Tuesday's announcement, media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the Chinese government was trying to scare people offline.
"These new regulations represent a very disturbing step backwards for the Chinese internet," the group said in a statement.
"The pretext of combating pornography does not hold. The aim is to tighten political control and get internet users to censor themselves by bringing them face-to-face with their censors or their agents.
"What netizen will dare to criticise the regime after meeting the person who could put them behind bars for one wrong word?" the statement said.
An online poll by admin5.com, an internet industry website, showed more than 70 per cent of 1,300 respondents would not register a .cn address, despite the lifting of the ban, the Global Times, a Chinese daily close to the government, reported Wednesday.