China postpones mandatory Web filter

Green Dam software already used in local Internet cafes

BEIJING -- China on Tuesday scrapped a controversial plan to force computer makers to begin to bundle Internet filtering software on new machines, official media reported.

The mandatory pre-installation of the Green Dam-Youth Escort software -- announced just weeks before it was to go into effect July 1 -- raised strong worldwide concerns about China's one-party government using the program to monitor the Web use of the country's nearly 300 million people online.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology delayed its own order due to demands by some computer makers for more time to effect the plan, the Xinhua News agency said.

The MIIT claims the software is designed to block violent and pornographic content on the Internet and to protect children. A spokesman said the ministry would solicit opinions about how to perfect the installation plan, leaving open the chance it will not be scrapped altogether. No new software date was given.

The Green Dam was assailed by critics of censorship, industry groups and Washington officials as politically intrusive, technically ineffective and commercially unfair.

Many Chinese Internet activists, bloggers and lawyers threatened protests, lawsuits and other actions against the plan, and blogs reflected some measure of satisfaction at the announcement Tuesday.

Susan Shirk, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of California, San Diego, told Reuters that earlier open criticism of Green Dam in the Chinese media suggested the plan did not have the backing of senior government leaders.

"They do watch public opinion very carefully," Shirk said of China's Communist Party leaders. "There's a very dynamic interaction between the Party authorities and the Internet public."

On Monday, the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing urged China to reconsider the move, saying it "poses significant questions in relation to security, privacy, system reliability, the free flow of information and user choice."

Last week, the United States also said the policy was "draconian" and the European Union urged its abandonment.

"I would say we would welcome this," Susan Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the United States' embassy in Beijing, told Reuters.