China Delays Internet Filtering Plan
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Earlier this month, we heard about China's plan to require all new computers to include sophisticated filtering software. Well, now, China has delayed the plan for an unspecified amount of time.
As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, China appears to be backing away from the controversial policy.
ANTHONY KUHN: Just hours before the rules were to go into effect, the Ministry of Information Technology posted a note on its Web site saying it would solicit more opinions on the software, called Green Dam. It insisted that the content filter was simply intended to shield youth from pornography. It rejected suggestions of political censorship and security loopholes, and it emphasized that if consumers don't like the software, they can just uninstall it.
But then, asks Beijing-based lawyer and blogger Liu Xiaoyuan, why bother requiring it in the first place?
Mr. LIU XIAOYUAN (Lawyer, Blogger): (Through Translator) When the ministry requires installation of this software on every computer, we have to wonder whether they have an economic interest in this. Are they using their administrative powers to create a monopoly or boost a certain company's sales?
KUHN: Opinion polls show Chinese overwhelmingly oppose requiring the use of Green Dam. Some users say it doesn't work. A California-based company alleges that Green Dam contains code stolen from its software.
U.S. and European governments and industry groups have asked Beijing to reconsider.
Rebecca MacKinnon, a University of Hong Kong expert on the Internet in China, says the ministry should have consulted with more companies and users before issuing its mandate.
Professor REBECCA MacKINNON (Journalism, University of Hong Kong): I think the government has learned a valuable lesson about how to actually implement information technology policy in a way that society won't just completely reject.
KUHN: This may or may not be the end of Green Dam. MacKinnon points out that regardless, the debate about how to protect kids from pornography will continue in China just as everywhere else, and that China will continue to try to stamp out harmful information, by which it means both political dissent and smut.
She says that aside from the Green Dam debacle, China's Internet controls have generally been effective.
Prof. MacKINNON: They've managed to censor and control the Internet enough to prevent the really political people from launching a political movement or an opposition party, yet, they had allowed for more space for discourse. So, most people in China today feel they have much more freedom to speak than ever before, thanks to the Internet.
KUHN: For now, the Ministry of Information Technology says Green Dam is available for free download for anyone who wants to install it.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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