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.
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