China Internet Filter Challenged in Rights Uproar (Updated)

The ongoing saga on the battle on the government requiring pre-installed software for filtering new computers in China (the software dubbed the Green Dam) by July 1, and the netizens and companies that oppose the infringement, has gone to court. From Reuters:

A Chinese lawyer has demanded a public hearing to reconsider a government demand that all new personal computers carry Internet filtering software, adding to uproar over a plan critics say is ineffective and intrusive.

Li Fangping, a Beijing human rights advocate who often embraces controversial causes, has asked the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to allow hearings on the “lawfulness and reasonableness” of the demand, which takes effect from July 1 and was publicized only this week.

“This administrative action lacks a legal basis,” Li wrote in a submission to the ministry that was sent to reporters by email on Thursday.

A statement from five groups sent by email said the software threatened to cripple access to many of the gay community websites that have flourished in recent years.

“We need to demand not just the lifting of this software decree, but also an end to restrictions on gay publications,” Wan (Yanhai) told Reuters. “This is about opposing censorship.”

Update: From the Wall Street Journal, “‘Green Dam’ Creator Seeks To Reassure That He’s Not Out To Censor China’s Web“:

The government mandate to ship all PCs in China with a filtering software called Green Dam-Youth Escort has caused quite a stir. Bryan Zhang wants to tell everyone that they needn’t worry.

To try to reassure observers that Green Dam’s function is purely to block pornography and other content inappropriate for kids, Zhang, founder of Jinhui Computer System Engineering, one of the two companies that developed Green Dam, gave a step-by-step demonstration of the software for The Wall Street Journal.

Zhang said that even users who have the software on the hard drive of their new PC would need to use an installer program to activate it. When they do so, they have the option of registering the software by providing some personal information. Users are given a standard password, which they can change, that enables them to access the program’s settings or turn it off.

He showed how parents can turn on or off filtering for five categories of content: “adult/ pornography,” “extreme adult/pornography,” “violent games,” “homosexuality,” and “illegal activities/drugs.” Zhang said that “illegal activities” includes, but isn’t limited to, gambling. Users can also opt to turn on or off the notifications that appear when a Web site is blocked by Green Dam.

Also, bloggers in China who have accessed copies of the software reveal that the filtered words and phrases contain more political content than pornographic, according to another report in the Wall Street Journal:

Shi Zhao, a prominent blogger from Beijing, said he and other bloggers and programmers found several data files that included Chinese phrases such as “6-4 massacre” — a reference to the Tiananmen Square military crackdown on June 4, 1989 — and “the celebration of Tibetan people.”

There are two kinds of keyword documents in the software: one is related to pornographic content, and the other related to political content, he said. “The documents related to political stuff are very big — much, much bigger than those related to pornographic content,” he said.

Mr. Shi posted his findings in a document online that has since been widely circulated on blogs and Internet forums, fueling concerns in China about the program.