In a rare victory for freedom of information in China, the government has abruptly reversed course on its mandate that Internet filtering software be installed on every computer sold in China after July 1.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that mandatory installation of the software, called Green Dam Youth Escort, would be delayed indefinitely. The software caused a torrent of protests from both Chinese computer users and global computer makers…. China has said the software is designed to filter out pornography and violence to protect minors, but many experts say it can also block any other content that the authorities deem subversive [The New York Times].
While some experts suggested that the Chinese government might be delaying the program’s roll-out simply to give computer makers more time to test the software and comply with the policy, others believe that the government was forced to bow to the pressure from outraged citizens. “This shows that social pressure can’t be ignored,” said Zhou Ze, a Beijing lawyer who challenged the legality of the plan. “They tried to control public opinion to back the plan by creating a fuss about pornography, but that failed, and they will have learnt to be more careful next time” [Reuters]. Analyst Edward Yu of Beijing says that while protests from foreign computer companies probably influenced the government’s decision, “we think public opinion played an even more important role” [AP].
The Green Dam software made censorship a topic of public debate in China, which now boasts nearly 300 million Internet users. Despite official claims to the contrary, the Green Dam software was discovered to be blocking more than just pornography. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that Green Dam regularly restricted access to Web pages containing words related to Falun Gong — a semi-religious movement that has been branded a cult by the Chinese government [PC World]. The testers also found that searching for certain political keywords caused the browser window to shut, and some questioned whether the software could send reports of user behavior to government censors.
The surprise revocation of the order caused some celebrations, with one party breaking out at a trendy cafe in Beijing where Web-savvy citizens had planned to meet to protest the decree. Originally conceived as part of an Internet boycott to mark the July 1 launch of the filter — and to give a web-addicted generation something to do during the 24 hours of offline — the atmosphere was festive as guests celebrated what many said was an unexpected victory against state censorship [Reuters].
Discoblog: To China’s Internet Filter, Garfield Is Pornography, Porn Is Not