U.S. criticizes China on Web limits

Green Dam filtering software flagged for restrictions, IPR

Related: China Web boycott called to mark filter debut

BEIJING -- The U.S. chided China's leadership on Monday for its latest Web censorship efforts, suggesting a new government-backed Internet filtering software could be an impediment to trade between the two countries.

The American pressure comes in the wake of the Chinese government's plan to require all personal computers sold in China from July 1 onwards to include the Green Dam Youth Escort software.

Following American diplomats' meetings Friday with officials of China's ministries of commerce and information technology, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement released Monday:

"The U.S. is concerned about actions that seek to restrict access to the Internet as well as restrictions on the internationally recognized right to freedom of expression."

Chinese officials say the software is meant to block access to violent and pornographic material and protect the country's closely monitored online population -- the largest in the world, just shy of 300 million Internet users.

But many Web surfers who have tested Green Dam say it doesn't work for its intended purpose and could be used to monitor their private computer use.  Some local and global industry groups are calling for Beijing to scrap it.

A June 12 report by OpenNet Initiative--a group that includes scholars from Cambridge, Oxford and the University of Toronto--called Green Dam a "substandard product" that makes computers more susceptible to security breaches.

"We have asked the Chinese to engage in a dialogue on how to address these concerns," said the U.S. Embassy statement, which also cites concerns about "serious technical issues," and a potential "impact on trade."

Silicon Valley companies argue that Internet censorship ought to be treated as a trade issue in the wake of the public embarrassment in 2006 ago stemming from Google and Yahoo being forced to share information with Beijing in order to be allowed to operate in China. Some of the e-mail information shared by Yahoo led to the arrest and imprisonment of a Chinese journalist.

Tackling Green Dam from another angle, Solid Oak, a California software company, is seeking an injunction warning PC companies not to use the software that it claims is an illegal copy of its own product.

Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong, who is writing a book about China and the Internet, said public outrage about the software is encouraging but presses for more from industry players involved in the shaping of the Internet.

"The Green Dam incident is yet another example of why it behooves companies to think ahead about how they are going to uphold their larger responsibility to society," MacKinnon opined in the Wall Street Journal last week. "Industry has a choice: be reactive -- and be forced into growing complicity with government censorship and surveillance around the globe. Or be pro-active, develop robust human-rights policies, and consider how to responsibly handle the inevitable pressures by all kinds of governments to serve as national auto-parent, if not auto-cop," MacKinnon wrote.

Over the last year, Beijing's pro-active bans on Web porn saw more than 1,900 Web sites closed nationwide over the last year.

The latest target of this campaign is Google Inc., the world’s most popular Internet search engine, which is working with the Chinese government to restrict porn.

At a time when Google has recently gained ground in China on local rival Baidu, China asked Google to remove some search links after state-run media on Friday criticized Mountain View-California-based Google for spreading obscene content.