China’s Green Dam Filter and the Threat of Rising Global Censorship

by on June 17, 2009 · 11 comments

Rebecca MacKinnon has an important piece in the Wall Street Journal today about China’s “Green Dam Youth Escortfiltering mandate and the danger of this model catching on with other governments. “More and more governments — including democracies like Britain, Australia and Germany — are trying to control public behavior online, especially by exerting pressure on Internet service providers,” she notes. “Green Dam has only exposed the next frontier in these efforts: the personal computer.”

She’s right, and that’s cause for serious concern.  Moreover, there’s the question of how corporations doing business in China should respond to demands and threats related to installing such filters. She notes:

In a world that includes child pornographers and violent hate groups, it is probably not reasonable to oppose all censorship in all situations. But if technical censorship systems are to be put in place, they must be sufficiently transparent and accountable so that they do not become opaque extensions of incumbent power — or get hijacked by politically influential interest groups without the public knowing exactly what is going on.

Which brings us back to companies: the ones that build and run Internet and telecoms networks, host and publish speech, and that now make devices via which citizens can go online and create more speech. Companies have a duty as global citizens to do all they can to protect users’ universally recognized right to free expression, and to avoid becoming opaque extensions of incumbent power — be it in China or Britain.

I generally agree with all that but this is a difficult issue and one that I have struggled with personally. (See this “Friendly Conversation about Corporate High-Tech Engagement with China” that Jim Harper and I had three years ago).  But I do hope that more companies take a hard line with the Chinese as well as there own governemnts when it comes to filtering mandates or even restricitve parental control defaults and settings [an issue I wrote more about in this paper: "The Perils of Mandatory Parental Controls and Restrictive Defaults."]  On that note, kudos to the business groups that already signed on to a joint letter oppossing China’s new filtering mandate.

  • Peter

    This chinese filtering mandate also asks PC hardware distributors to become accomplices in distributing pirated software code.

    http://netdaddy-internetsafety.blogspot.com/200

  • http://www.openmarket.org/author/alex-harris/ AlexHarris

    Does anyone have a list going of coerced filtering/censorship “agreements” between governments and ISPs? I last followed this issue in August and there were already several countries and states in the game:
    http://www.openmarket.org/2008/08/11/italy-bloc

  • Tony

    I get the feeling that censoring the internet is an experiment that will blow up in the faces of governments in the coming years. What may seem like a good idea now will turn out to be quite a mistake when the world becomes even more globalized. It's like trying to keep a boulder from tumbling down an embankment… eventually gravity will crush you.

    Also, this video says China's backing off of the filter req. Not sure who's right: http://www.newsy.com/videos/chinese_filter_a_no_go

  • Charles Liu

    How can it be censorship when end users were never required to install or run Green Dam?

    Read page 2 paragraph 2) of the 5/19 MIIT notice Rebecca posted closely – “preinstall” in Chinese actually means “bundle”. Take this 6/12 ZDNet article citing WSJ for example:

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=19688

    The end users were never required to install or run Green Dam. As to what Green Dam will filter, it is configuable by the user.

    How this is twisted into censorhip by a handfull of bloggers is beyond me – anti-sinoism perhaps?

  • Charles Liu

    How can it be censorship when end users were never required to install or run Green Dam?

    Read page 2 paragraph 2) of the 5/19 MIIT notice Rebecca posted closely – “preinstall” in Chinese actually means “bundle”. Take this 6/12 ZDNet article citing WSJ for example:

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=19688

    The end users were never required to install or run Green Dam. As to what Green Dam will filter, it is configuable by the user.

    How this is twisted into censorhip by a handfull of bloggers is beyond me – anti-sinoism perhaps?

  • Charles Liu

    How can it be censorship when end users were never required to install or run Green Dam?

    Read page 2 paragraph 2) of the 5/19 MIIT notice Rebecca posted closely – “preinstall” in Chinese actually means “bundle”. Take this 6/12 ZDNet article citing WSJ for example:

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=19688

    The end users were never required to install or run Green Dam. As to what Green Dam will filter, it is configuable by the user.

    How this is twisted into censorhip by a handfull of bloggers is beyond me – anti-sinoism perhaps?

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