China lately stated that it planned to extend nationwide a prerequisite for microblog users to register with their real names as part of a sweeping update of rules governing the Internet.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology stated that the revision of rules originally introduced in 2000 aimed to keep pace with change and protect state security, according to a statement posted on its website. The ministry, which regulates the industry stated that many new situations have arisen and hence they are facing new problems. It also added that the new rules aimed to promote healthy, orderly development of the Internet, protect state security as well as public interest.

With more than half a billion Chinese presently online, authorities are concerned about the power of the Internet to influence public opinion in a country that maintains tight controls on its conventional media outlets.

Beijing regularly blocks Internet searches under a huge online censorship system known as the Great Firewall of China, but the rising popularity of microblogs similar to Twitter has posed a new challenge.

Under the draft rules, those utilizing Internet chat forums, blogs and microblogs known as "weibo" will have to register with their real names.

In the past, only microblog users in five cities - the capital Beijing, the commercial hub of Shanghai, the northern port city of Tianjin and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen - were essential to do so under a trial that started last December.

Previously internet users had been able to set up micro blog accounts under assumed names, making it more complicated for authorities to track them down, and allowing them to set up new accounts if existing ones were shut down.

Microblog users criticized the projected rules, which are open to public consultation for a month.

The rules widen the definition of Internet services, stating that online forums, blogs and microblogs ought to receive government approval, away from just websites.The guidelines also necessitate Internet service providers to maintain records of postings and users' information for one year, up from the previous six months, citing the need to crack down on Internet crime.

China's well known microblogging site, run by Internet giant Sina, last month revealed fresh conditions punishing those who post comments deemed offensive, as it comes under government pressure to clamp down on bloggers.