Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co. Ltd's Green Dam program--green describes a clean Internet environment--prevents access to pornography; Youth Escort filters out subversive and offensive language.
Internet censorship experts around the world are still figuring out exactly what Green Dam can and cannot do. A preliminary study by a team at the
Chinese blogger Isaac Mao has been quoted extensively in the Western media saying the software is full of flaws that expose users to attacks by hackers who could steal personal information.
The implications of these findings for journalists and bloggers are chilling. If this fiat from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology goes unchallenged, how will PC makers react if ordered to install more sophisticated tracking technology to allow the state to keep an eye on users? Journalist Shi Tao is serving a 10-year jail term for his online communications after Chinese authorities tracked him down with far less sophisticated means--they asked his e-mail account provider Yahoo for his information.
The Green Dam move has implications for mobile handset manufacturers too. More and more journalists and ordinary citizens in
Equipment manufacturers are now faced with the kinds of questions already hashed out in the boardrooms of Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft since the Shi Tao case emerged--how to respond to government demands that violate internationally recognized standards of freedom of expression and user privacy. Initial reaction by the manufacturing sector has been cautious. On Tuesday trade associations in the
"The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica urge the Chinese government to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement and would welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. We believe there should be an open and healthy dialogue on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice."An industry dialogue with
might be one way to mitigate the effects of these regulations. A second avenue for pushback could lie in trade. When I asked the World Trade Organization in Beijing to comment on Green Dam it said, "WTO rules do not cover this." Geneva
But public policy makers, politicians, and Web companies themselves, whose advertising business model is based on a free and open Internet, increasingly acknowledge that Net censorship is a barrier to trade. Can governments in the
A third response for PC makers may be to follow the example of Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft. These three joined with human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, academics, and socially responsible efforts last year in the Global Network Initiative in an attempt to safeguard basic free expression and privacy rights online.
The initiative's core principles also apply to equipment makers and telecom companies, none of which have yet joined. Perhaps Green Dam will pique their interest.