China Requires Pre-Installed Internet Filter on All New Computers (Updated)

From Xinhua:

China said Tuesday it would have all new computers in China pre-installed with a filter software, in a bid to protect minors from “unhealthy information” from the Internet.

All computers produced or sold in China after July 1 would be installed with such software, said the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MITT).

Mandatory pre-installation of the ‘Green Dam-Youth Escort’ filter has already come under attack from foreign computer industries.  From the Taipei Times:

China yesterday defended a new requirement that personal computers sold in the country carry a software that filters online content, just hours after Microsoft said the rule raised issues of freedom of expression, privacy and security that “need to be properly addressed.”

The statement by the US software giant came after a US computer industry association denounced the Chinese move and leading US personal computer makers said they were studying its ramifications.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) defended Beijing’s administration of the Internet, saying it was in accordance with the law and that the software “is aimed at blocking and filtering some unhealthy content, including pornography and violence.”

And from BBC:

Critics have complained that [the new screening software] could also be used to stop Chinese internet users searching for politically sensitive information.

But Mr Qin, speaking at a regular press briefing, said China promoted the healthy development of the internet.

[...]The aim is to build a healthy and harmonious online environment that does not poison young people’s minds, according to the directive [issued July 1 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology].

Beijing based financial magazine Caijing published the following text on this topic, translated by CDT:

Notice Concerning Pre-installation of Green Web Access Filtering Software

Associated Work Units:

In order to create a green, healthy, and harmonious internet
environment, to avoid exposing youth to the harmful effects of bad
information, the Ministry of Information Industry, The Central
Spiritual Civilization Office, and The Commerce Ministry, in
accordance with the requirements of “The Government Purchasing Law,”
are using central funds to purchase rights to “Green Dam Flower Season
Escort”(Henceforth “Green Dam”) … for one year along with associated
services, which will be freely provided to the public. The software is
for general use and testing. The software can effectively filter
improper language and images and is prepared for use by computer
factories.

In order to improve the government’s ability to deal with Web content
of low moral character, and preserve the healthy development of
children, the regulation and demands pertaining to the software are as
follows:

1) Computers produced and sold in China must have the latest version
of “Green Dam” pre-installed, imported computers should have the
latest version of the software installed prior to sale.
2) The software should be installed on computer hard drives and
available discs for subsequent restoration
3) The providers of “Green Dam” have to provide support to computer
manufacturers to facilitate installation
4) Computer manufacturers must complete installation and testing prior
to the end of June. As of July 1, all computers should have “Green
Dam” pre-installed.

5) Every month computer manufacturers and the provider of Green Dam
should give MII data on monthly sales and the pre-installation of the
software. By February 2010, an annual report should be submitted.

If pre-installation does not happen on time or reports aren’t made on
time, given incorrectly, or not given at all, the MII will mandate
another report or a correction within a limited time period.

ESWN blog translated following comments from Chinese netizens about the “Green Dam” software:

- Hello everybody, I am a teacher at a school and I wish to make the following comments. First, the school computers are always restored to their original conditions each time after they are used. Therefore, all monitoring data will be lost every time that the computer is turned off. Therefore, there is nothing to monitor afterwards. Second, this software does not have a network edition. For a school with many computers, it is not easy to administer this software one computer at a time. This is impractical.

- I don’t want to discuss whether the functionalities of Green Dam are good or bad, but it is a nuisance because of all the upgrading that goes on. We are a rural school, and we are using rural distance learning equipment (namely, Lenovo computers). If we install Green Dam, then we cannot do simultaneous network broadcasts or hard disk protection. Even if Green Dam guarantees safe Internet usage, how are we to maintain the software on our computers? Our computer instructor is going to sit around all day to watch Green Dam being upgraded one computer at a time. I am going to faint! Our supervisory leaders must not know how to use computers!

- Let me say something here. We were ordered to install the software. So I have to come to this website and curse. After we installed the software, many normal websites are banned. For example, it is normal for students to like games such as 4399, but not any more … many news reports have certain normal words but they are banned … for example, when reports that there is a campaign against pornographic websites, the software bans the story because the term “pornographic websites” was used. Don’t tell me how great the software technology is, because this is a piece of junk. When we need to look up some course-related material, there is always some provocative advertisements on the pages so we can’t access them anymore. Why doesn’t the state just ban those advertisements directly? I want to curse someone out …

Also from LA Times:

The order by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was unprecedented in scope: All personal computers sold in the country as of July 1 would have to include government-sponsored Internet filtering software.

But just how the plan, which would potentially affect hundreds of millions of computer users, would be carried out remains unclear. The rules, issued last month but made public this week, require computer manufacturers to install software whose stated aim is to shield minors from pornography and other “harmful” material.

Proponents of Internet freedom worry that the plan would expand the reach of one of the world’s most stringent domestic censorship programs. Restricted access to politically sensitive material is a way of life in China. YouTube has been blocked since April.

Update: See also “The Green Dam, be careful probing” by Hu Yong, translated by Danwei and an article from the English-language version of Global Times.

Update (6/11/09): Alice Xin Liu writes at the Guardian:

It is well known that western internet companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft censor content from Chinese blogs. In 2006, Yahoo was lambasted as China’s strictest censor of English language political content; in 2005, Microsoft blocked a popular blog by Chinese journalist Michael Anti for its outspoken content on freedom of speech and press.

However, the censorship efforts of western commercial blog hosts are not in the same league as the measure made this week by the Chinese government, who ordered that Green Dam Youth Escort – a government-developed software that filters pornographic and violent content from websites – be installed on every mainland manufactured computer after 1 July. Although the software’s designers have attempted to reassure observers that the software will only be used to target five categories of content – “adult/pornography, extreme adult/pornography, violent games, homosexuality, and illegal activities/drugs” – concerns remain that the government will use the filtering system to aid its political agenda.

[...]Western companies are hamstrung because the legality of the scheme cannot be called into question. The organisations behind the project are Jinhui Computer System Engineering and the Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology academy. The former was chosen by the government to develop the software. This in itself is a point of contention – it was “chosen”, despite concerns voiced by critics over a “monopoly”, profits go to the government and the company. Although the academy aided in thedevelopment of the software, Jinhui has been the focus for the anger of online commentaters and forums, who have questioned the financial wastage involved in the project. There are suggestions that the 41.7m yuan (£3.7m) might have been better used elsewhere, such as education, healthcare reform or improving the conditions of the poor – especially as sceptics have suggested the software will prove relatively easy to defeat.