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China backs away from mandating Internet-filtering software

By Alexa Olesen
Associated Press / June 17, 2009
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BEIJING - China’s authoritarian government has backed away from an order that Internet-filtering software be loaded onto every new computer after an outcry by citizens accustomed to the relative freedom of online life.

Legal challenges, petitions, and satirical cartoons had been part of a grass-roots effort to scuttle the initiative, announced earlier this month.

A Ministry of Industry and Information Technology official said yesterday that computer users are not required to use Green Dam Youth Escort software - though it will still come preinstalled or be included on a compact disc with all PCs sold starting July 1.

“The use of this software is not compulsory,’’ said the official, who would not give his name, as is customary with Chinese officials.

Executives from the company that created the software had said earlier that it was possible to uninstall Green Dam, but it was not clear until yesterday that the government would not penalize people who chose not to use it.

Internet users have expressed growing frustration with efforts to monitor and restrict online content. The Internet has emboldened public opinion and given Chinese citizens tools to mobilize around a cause, such as exposing corruption or halting a project believed to be threatening public health.

The government says the software is aimed at blocking violence and pornography, but users say it also prohibits them from visiting sites with discussions of homosexuality, mentions of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, or images of pigs - because the software confuses them with naked humans, media reports said.

Creative critics have posted at least a dozen variations of the “Green Dam Girl,’’ imagined as a busty Japanese manga-style cartoon character in an army cap and a mini-dress who totes a bucket of soy sauce - considered a disinfectant - for cleaning up dirty websites. One such online image has “Big Brother is Watching You’’ scrawled in the background.

Petitions and at least one legal challenge have also been launched. Beijing lawyer Li Fangping submitted a request to the ministry last week, demanding a public hearing on the “legitimacy and rationality’’ of forcing computer makers to include the software.