The Irony of Mandatory Filtering in China vs. the U.S.

by on September 15, 2009 · 11 comments

“Schools in Beijing are quietly removing the Green Dam filter, which was required for all school computers in July, due to complaints over problems with the software,” notes this Reuters report. Even though China backed down on their earlier requirement to have the Green Dam filter installed on all computers, according to Reuters “schools were still ordered by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to install the web filter, which Chinese officials said would block pornography and other unhealthy content.”  The Reuters article mentions a notice carried on the home page of one Beijing high school that reads: “We will remove all Green Dam software from computers in the school as it has strong conflicts with teaching software we need for normal work.”  The article also cites a school technology director, who confirmed that the software had been taken off most computers, as saying “It has seriously influenced our normal work.”

Ironically, many educators and librarians in the United States can sympathize since they currently live under similar requirements.  Under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000, publicly funded schools and libraries must implement a mandatory filtering scheme or run the risk of losing their funding. As the Federal Communications Commission summarizes:

[CIPA] imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program… Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy and technology protection measures in place. An Internet safety policy must include technology protection measures to block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) are obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).

Of course, nobody wants kids viewing porn in schools, but CIPA has been know the block far more than that and has become a real pain for many educators, librarians, and school administrators who have to occasionally get around these filters to teach their students about legitimate subjects. Anyway, I just find it ironic that some American lawmakers have been making a beef about mandatory Internet filtering by the Chinese when we have our own mandatory filtering regime right here in the states. For example, back in late June, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk sent a joint letter to their Chinese counterparts “urging China to revoke a proposed rule (Circular 226) that would mandate that all computers produced and sold in China pre-install a widely-criticized Chinese Internet filtering program called Green Dam.”  Meanwhile, a congressional resolution was introduced by Rep. David Wu (H.Res. 590) “expressing grave concerns about the sweeping censorship, privacy, and cybersecurity implications of China’s Green Dam filtering software, and urging U.S. high-tech companies to promote the Internet as a tool for transparency, freedom of expression, and citizen empowerment around the world.”

These policymakers are correct to fear government-directed filtering schemes, but why isn’t anyone mentioning the filtering mandates we already have on the books right here in the United States?

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