Autocratic nations rarely feel the need to justify their actions. So China’s recent defense of its new internet filtering software was extraordinary. It also rings hollow.
Starting July 1, the “Green Dam Youth Escort” software must be pre-installed on all computers sold within mainland China. The net-filtering software is aimed at protecting users from “harmful content.” The main target is pornography, but the implication is clear. According to Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, "This is clearly an escalation of attempts to limit access and the freedom of the internet."
According to Bryan Zhang, the founder of Jinhui (which created the software), users could uninstall the software or unblock sites. But this is a strawman. Politicians often evoke “the children” to push through legislation. Similarly, the specter of combating pornography makes the Green Dam Youth Escort more palatable. What’s the result? In order to protect their children, parents will enthusiastically support the software. And the trojan horse, having infiltrated the home, becomes a cynical means to expand government control of the web.
China needn’t defend its software requirement. This isn’t the first time the People’s Republic has censored online content. Most are familiar with the “Golden Shield Project” (popularly known as the “Great Firewall of China”), which blocks sites and images the government deems “harmful.” Internet control typically occurs through IP filtering, DNS redirection, keyword filtering, and others.
Section Five of the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations states (italics mine):
No unit or individual may use the Internet to create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit the following kinds of information:
(1) Inciting to resist or breaking the Constitution or laws or the implementation of administrative regulations;
(2) Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system;
(3) Inciting division of the country, harming national unification;
(4) Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harming the unity of the nationalities;
(5) Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumors, destroying the order of society;
(6) Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder,
(7) Terrorism or inciting others to criminal activity; openly insulting other people or distorting the truth to slander people;
(8) Injuring the reputation of state organs;
(9) Other activities against the Constitution, laws or administrative regulations.
These regulations, particularly the highlighted ones, are so ambiguous as to apply to virtually any content. Tibetan independence, pro-Democracy groups, and the Tiananmen Square massacre are usual targets. When Google opened its China branch in 2005, they accommodated the socialist nation’s draconian internet controls. As a simple test, go to google.com and type in “Tiananmen Square.” Not surprisingly, the first image is “Tank Man.” Type the same into Google China and the results are radically different: a portrait of a statesman, some cutesy tourist pictures, and…beach volleyball pics (huh?).
There’s no reason for China to defend the obvious. Everyone, or at least everyone outside the PRC, is aware of China’s net censorship. Green Dam Youth Escort is not open to debate.
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Note: The preceding represents the view of the editor and not necessarily ECN.