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Indian States Make Cybercafe Users Sign In

The southern Indian state of Kerala will join two other states in requiring cybercafes to record the names and addresses of their customers in an effort to combat online fraud, virus attacks and terrorism, an official said Tuesday.

The new rules would require cybercafes to verify the identities of Internet surfers and record their home addresses and visiting times, said M. Vijayanunni, the top administrator of Kerala's government.

"Our police are trying to learn from the experience of our neighboring states and monitor cybercafes better," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Two Indian states — Karnataka and Gujarat — have imposed similar rules, hoping such records would help trace threatening e-mails or unauthorized credit-card transactions.

Two other states, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, do some monitoring of cybercafes without having specific laws.

Several other Asian countries and cities, most prominently China, require registration at cybercafes. Italy is the only European Union country to require Internet cafes to record ID information, but nonmember Switzerland does require that customers show ID.

All Internet surfing leaves an electronic trail that can be traced to the computer it came from. But police need other records to trace the person that used the computer at a specified time.

In December, an unidentified Internet user sent a hoax e-mail to a U.S. diplomatic mission claiming a bomb would go off in India's Parliament. The building was evacuated amid panic.

The mail was later traced to a cybercafe in the town of Palayamkottai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, but the sender has not been caught yet.

Privacy advocates question the effectiveness of record keeping — which they say is hard to enforce.

"Such rules have proved to be ineffective and enjoy little support on the ground," said cyberlaw expert Pavan Duggal. "It is also very difficult to implement them."