Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on June 11, 2009
Not to say I told you so, but it seems China is indeed stepping back from its new censorship policy for computers. As TelecomAsia’s Robert Clark writes here, the Chinese government “has retreated on its controversial new web filtering plan.” I’m not sure it’s a full-fledged retreat yet, but there are certainly signs that the worldwide outcry is having an impact. For instance, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, does seem a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. According to the government mouthpiece, China’s Ministry of Industry and IT “on Wednesday insisted that its notice to the PC makers and sellers does not mean the software’s installation to user’s operating system is mandatory, instead, the software package should be installed on either the hard drives or a compact disc with the computers.”
Even more interesting is Xinhua’s description of the criticism the new policy is receiving from inside China. I’m quoting at-length from Xinhua since the amount of space the critics receive from the agency seems a good sign that the government is moving to make this policy disappear:
However, Chinese scholars challenged the ministry’s policy despite of the government’s intention to keep minors away from porn and violent contents.
“I have the freedom to decide whether or not to install a locker to my home,” Dr. Ma Guangyuan with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, “parent’s worry about their children’s porn-free environment is reasonable, but this is not an excuse for asking all new computers to be preloaded with the software because I can use it by myself.”
Lv Jingjian, a director with China Computer Federation, said there should be a public hearing if the government wants the public to use a uniformed software package.
A scholar named Ou Muhua also questioned that why the ministry did not publicize the public bidding for the porn-filtering software before the Tuesday’s announcement.
“The filtering function of the Green Dam and Youth Escort is not a new technology and many free anti-virus software could also provide similar services,” Ou said in a comment in Wednesday’s China Youth Daily.
For more on the criticism of the policy within China, check out Rebecca MacKinnon’s RConversation blog here.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post on this story, there’s a typical pattern with off-the-wall new requirements from the Chinese bureaucracy: Outlandish policy gets announced, outcry begins, outlandish policy gets ignored. Rebecca sees the same thing happening now, too. “I’m putting more of my money on the likelihood that the Green Dam filtering software edict will not get implemented, or efforts at enforcement will fade quickly,” she writes at RConversation. “One thing Western observers need to remember is that China has a long history of edicts targeted at the tech, telecoms, and media sectors going un-enforced, quietly retracted, or morphed in practice into something very different.”
I wonder now if the Chinese critics of the censorship software will dare to go further and start asking more questions. For instance, what sort of oversight was there in the decision-making process that led the ministry to require PC users have a certain type of software, a decision that would significantly boost sales for the company that makes that software?