China: Scrapping "Green Dam" Doesn't Mean The End of Censorware

Rebecca MacKinnon writes about news that China may be backing down from publicly announced plans to install Green Dam internet filtering software on all Chinese computers.
It would be naïve to think that scrapping the Green Dam mandate means the end of headaches for computer- and device-makers world-wide. 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. Green Dam has only exposed the next frontier in these efforts: the personal computer.

First, some context: China currently has the world's most sophisticated and multi-layered system of Internet censorship. Objectionable content on domestic Web sites is deleted or prevented from being published, and access to a large number of overseas Web sites is blocked or "filtered." Decisions about what to censor are based on the Chinese Communist Party's desire to maintain power and legitimacy. There is no transparency or accountability in the censorship system, no public consultation in developing block lists or censorship criteria, and no way to appeal the blockage or removal of Web content.

Green Dam purports to take censorship to a whole new level. A report by the Open Net Initiative, an academic consortium dedicated to the study of censorship and surveillance, finds the Chinese government's mandate of censoring software at the PC-level "unprecedented." Companies installing the software risk becoming part of the existing opaque extension of regime power, at the other end of the chain that already includes Internet service providers, Web hosts and Web content companies.

The Green Dam Phenomenon: Governments everywhere are treading on Web freedom (Wall Street Journal).


  1. I think that China is going to start finding that it is blasting its own foot off and destabilizing itself in the process.

    The whole point of implementing this sort of internet control is to keep the CCP in power. Fair enough. The problem is that the CCP isn’t in power just because it has ultimate authority. 1.2 billion pissed peasants can void ultimate authority with shocking ease. A large part of the reason why the CCP has been so secure in the past 30 or so years is because it has provided economic growth and rising standards of livings. The citizens of China are willing to let the CCP do its thing so long as times remain good.

    The danger China faces in its attempts to crack down is that at some point it is going to collide with business. Business might be ambivalent about the CCPs less than fluffy methods of ensuring stability, but they are not ambivalent about industrial espionage. Slapping a wedge into the security of all computers in China and all but ensuring that nothing you do remains private is going to leave some corporations pissed. If they can’t change the policy, they are going to flat out leave.

    China can’t remain a glorified textile mill forever and continue to progress. China needs technology and an educated class doing information work. In the world of information based companies, security of data transactions is paramount.

    Would you want to blast your hot new start up plans across China’s intertubes with ‘government sanction’ software peeking into every bit on the sending and receiving machines? China is going to murder its own burgeoning intellectual class, and when the economy stalls, the peasants might not fully understand the reason, but they are going to piss.

  2. “China is going to murder its own burgeoning intellectual class,”, yep, brains and obedience don’t go together. I’m actually rather counting on this to tell the truth. The idea of a China using all its resources is daunting.

  3. That was really well said, Rindan.

    If the CCP does go ahead with censorware like this, would you all like to start a pool guessing dates as to when a “fake” Green Dam (almost spelled that as Damn) will be made to act like the censorware but not report “abuses?”

  4. Free speech or stone age.

    It will take some time for TPTB to internalize this meme, and unfortunately most of the masses will be convinced, wrongfully, that these kind of actions actually work.

    But the reality is, if your society is still participating in modern commerce in any meaningful way, you have the tools to say whatever you want.

  5. Over 10,000 “netizens” left comments on the anti-Green Dam website to voice their frustrations about the filter. Also, the Chinese government plans to recruit 10,000 volunteers to monitor the internet. Is that enough? How in the world do you monitor the internet? It seems impossible for the citizens to be able to stop the filter from taking place. At the same time, it seems impossible for the Chinese government to make the filter successful.

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