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Technology Companies Should Resist China’s Censorship Attempts, HRW says

Posted by Author on June 19, 2009

Human Rights Watch, June 19, 2009 –

(New York)
– The computer industry should make it clear to the Chinese government that it will not cooperate in efforts to curtail access to information on the internet through government-mandated or provided filtering software such as the “Green Dam Youth Escort” program, Human Rights Watch said today.

Despite domestic and international criticism, the Chinese government has apparently not reversed its initial demand that companies pre-install Green Dam on all personal computers by July 1. This week, a Washington-based group representing leading information technology companies issued a brief statement urging the Chinese government to “reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement,” but to date has received no response indicating the new requirement would be rescinded.

“The government’s order to install censorship software represents a grave threat to freedom of expression in China,” said Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights Program director at Human Rights Watch. “The Green Dam technology highlights Beijing’s ongoing efforts to intensify its chokehold on Chinese citizens’ internet access and the need for computer software and hardware firms to resist complicity in those efforts.”

Green Dam is ostensibly designed to filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the internet, but reportedly is also programmed to censor content ranging from political information to websites catering to the needs of China’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Green Dam is not transparent and does not facilitate users choosing which sites or terms to block or allow. Numerous commercial parental-control software packages are already widely available in China, including products sold by Microsoft.

Human Rights Watch said that instead of providing the promised protections, the Green Dam software could instead pose a serious new threat to free expression if industry leaders do not actively oppose any new efforts by the Chinese government to reintroduce mandatory pre-installation of Green Dam or other filtering software in the future. In addition to the censorship threat, the software could further intrude on user privacy, undermine user choice, and have the potential to make multinational companies complicit in those efforts.

According to the Open Net Initiative and other research institutions, Green Dam has serious security vulnerabilities that leave users vulnerable to hacking and could ultimately allow the government to track users’ browsing habits and communications. While the Chinese government has recently announced that it would issue security patches to fix some flaws in the software, it is not a sufficient step to address all the problems that the software creates for human rights.

“The controversy over Green Dam is just the latest attempt to make computer, software and internet companies complicit in China’s attempts to censor the internet,” said Ganesan. “It is critical for the industry to draw a line and make it clear to the government that it won’t sacrifice ethical principles and international human rights standards for profit.”

In a letter to major computer makers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the May 19 directive, “Notification Regarding Requirements for Pre-Installing Green Filtering Software on Computers,” and its human rights implications for companies in China and abroad. …… (more details from Human Rights Watch)

One Response to “Technology Companies Should Resist China’s Censorship Attempts, HRW says”

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