China Holds Firm on Software Filter, U.S. Firms Say

Despite earlier reports that the government had responded to widespread outrage over the Green Dam software by making its installation optional, the New York Times reports today that in fact there has been no apparent change in policy:

Four trade groups based in the United States have sent a statement to the Chinese government asking it to “to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement.”

On Wednesday, the major American computer makers said they had yet to hear anything concrete from China regarding making installation of Green Dam optional. Company representatives said the computer makers would refrain from taking a stand until they are presented with a clear position from the Chinese government.

[…] Confusion about the Green Dam mandate was sown on Monday when China Daily, the official English-language newspaper, quoted an unnamed official in the software department of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology saying that the government was requiring the software to be offered on a CD packaged with new computers or be placed on hard drives as set-up files only.

But it soon became clear that the unnamed official was not speaking in an authoritative role. When The New York Times called the ministry’s software department to clarify the government’s position, employees there refused to give a statement. No government official has given any statement this week indicating that the policy has been changed.

For more on the history of the Green Dam software and the role of the Internet Society of China in promoting it, see this China Media Project piece:

The controversy over “Green Dam” may have blown up in just the last week, but coverage of the software itself can in fact be traced back months earlier, to a piece appearing in Guangdong’s Southern Metropolis Daily on January 14, 2009. Though the “Green Dam” software is not the focus of the news report, the story does raise some interesting questions about how the software was conceived and promoted.

The Southern Metropolis Daily article, run on page A32 that day, deals with a January 2009 government campaign against so-called indecent Web columns and content.

By all accounts, the campaign was an aggressive one, resulting in the shutdown and purging of many Web columns and chat forums. But the chief driver behind that campaign was not, in fact, the government — not directly, anyway.

While the government was most certainly calling the shots, the ostensibly non-government Internet Society of China (ISC) was actually wielding the truncheon, beating down Web offerings that were “indecent” or otherwise illegal (Read also: politically and/or socially sensitive).