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China to delay requiring Green Dam Youth Escort filtering software

The plan to require the software in new computers sold in China had met with criticism that it violated free speech and was impractical. The government says only that firms need more time to comply.

July 01, 2009|David Pierson

BEIJING — China will delay a plan that requires all new computers sold in the country to carry Internet filtering software after a barrage of criticism from business groups, foreign officials and Chinese computer users.

The announcement was made through the government's official news agency late Tuesday, hours before the original deadline to include the so-called Green Dam Youth Escort program on all new computers sold in China.

The brief announcement said the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology had determined that computer manufacturers needed more time to adhere to the rule. It did not give any more detail.

The decision caps a three-week standoff between the Chinese government and its critics, who assailed the plan for being impractical and for violating free speech.

It's "another lesson learned in the benefits of transparency in the rule-making process," said James Zimmerman, a longtime business leader in Beijing and partner with law firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey. "Without a general buy-in from industry and consumers and ample time for compliance, the inevitable reaction is push-back from the public, and especially given the sense that the rules may be legally unsound and adopted with a questionable motive in mind."

Though officials and the software's manufacturer insisted the program was solely for blocking pornography, critics believed that Green Dam would enable the government to monitor computer use and to block subjects it deemed politically sensitive.

Trading partners were also gearing up for a fight, contending that the software mandate would have amounted to an unfair trade barrier on foreign computer makers. International business leaders urged Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in a letter to reconsider the plan. The European Union urged China to postpone it, deeming Green Dam a violation of free speech.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the software contained significant security vulnerabilities that could allow external users to steal data from personal computers.

American computer makers with large stakes in China -- namely Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. -- were quiet on the issue, probably negotiating behind the scenes, experts said.

Taiwanese PC maker Acer Inc. said it was prepared to comply with the Green Dam rule. Sony Corp. had apparently begun shipping computers with disclaimers about the software, according to a website belonging to Rebecca MacKinnon, a journalism professor in Hong Kong and an expert on China's Internet.

Green Dam was roundly ridiculed online by Chinese Internet users and bloggers who viewed the law as evidence of an out-of-touch government.

Some noticed that the software, meant to weed out images of naked people, also blocked photographs of pink-hued hogs. Others complained that it slowed down computers and crashed Internet browsers.

Ai Weiwei, an outspoken artist who helped design the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium, called for a boycott of the Internet on July 1 to protest Green Dam's implementation.

Observers say two major anniversaries this year -- the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4 and the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on Oct. 1 -- have resulted in tighter Internet controls.

Websites such as Twitter and Flickr were blocked June 4.

Last week Google experienced outages around the country.

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david.pierson@latimes.com

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