Buy a Computer, Get a Firewall... and More?
June 8, 2009
Filed under International
The Chinese government has quietly mandated that any personal computer sold in the country be pre-installed with government-approved software that blocks access to a government-created black list of "harmful" sites. The alleged intent of such a move is to protect children and provide them with a safer online environment. The question of how to do that effectively and not trample on Internet freedom is a difficult issue that is being debated everyday in countries around the world. But it strains credulity to believe that the latest effort of the Chinese government is anything more than an effort to further choke over access to information and free expression. Savvy Internet users in China are increasingly finding ways to circumvent the Great Firewall and government mandates to censor content on chat rooms, blogs and search engines are hardly airtight. Now the government is adding the software mandate to bring censorship directly to the desktop. The press reports about the software leave a lot of questions unanswered. Will the software simply block porn or as is more likely block political, religious and other disfavored speech? Will the software as reported just provide "updates" to users, or will it "phone home," reporting back on which users attempted to access blocked sites or worse, will it provide the Chinese government with a new way to spy on a broad range of Internet activities? May a user decide to disable the software? May the computer manufacturers provide users with information about the software, assuming that the government is at least forthcoming with companies about the software they will be required to install? Does the government software mandate mean that the Chinese are in effect killing the market for parental empowerment software in the country? Until now, the conventional wisdom has been that only companies that offered Internet services and applications had to grapple with the difficult question of how to protect the rights of users in the face of government demands to censor and spy. Now that conventional wisdom has been shattered, and the hardware industry must scramble to respond in a responsible manner. Addendum: The Human Rights in China organization has translated the official Chinese government order mandating that all computers sold in the country must come with pre-installed software that blocks access to pornography. HRIC's web site contains the following additional information:
According to information posted by the Department of Software Service Provider Industry (è½¯ä»¶æœ?åŠ¡ä¸šå?¸) [unofficial translation by HRIC] of the MIIT, as of June 1, 2009, there have been 2,170,000 installations of the software in about 80 percent of all elementary and high schools in China.