Global business protests Chinese Web filter plan

June 27, 2009

Global business protests Chinese Web filter planBusiness groups from all over the world have appealed directly to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to stop plans to require a new Web filter be pre-installed on all PCs which could be on sale in China.

In a rare show of solidarity aimed directly at the Chinese leader, 22 chambers of commerce and trade groups representing the world’s major technology suppliers asked that the plan be shelved. The mass appeal from commerce interests came hard on the heels of an official protest from the Obama administration in Washington. The letter appealed to Wen directly to “reconsider implementing the Green Dam requirements.” It says, in part, “The Green Dam mandate raises significant questions of security, privacy, system reliability, the free flow of information and user choice.”

The unusual letter with its direct appeal to the premier was signed by leaders of the American, European and Japanese chambers of commerce in China, the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers and trade groups representing the world’s most important technology suppliers. Such cooperation is rare in the face of Chinese pressure on business.

The requirement by China makes it illegal for a computer manufacturer to ship a PC into China if it does not have the controversial “Green Dam Youth Escort” Internet filter installed, according to an AP story. Many American and Taiwanese companies, such as Dell, HP, and Acer, sell huge numbers of computers into the country. Chinese officials have said that the system is needed to block access to violent and obscene material. However, many analysts who have looked at the software note that it also contains code to filter out Web material that the government considers politically objectionable.

United States trade officials earlier asked Beijing to revoke the order that requires the filtering software, saying that it is a “serious barrier to trade” as well as noting concerns about security. The administration officials said that Beijing might have violated its World Trade Organization commitments by failing to give companies adequate advance notice and time to comment on the order, which affects PC manufacturers worldwide.

As China has become a larger technology trading partner, most many companies and countries have simply decided not to comment on such things out of fear of reprisal. The “Green Dam Youth Escort” program, however, is difficult to ignore. It not only raises issues of censorship that are distasteful to Western countries, but the Chinese-supplied software also reportedly has serious security flaws. Perhaps this program has tried to go one step too far even for China.

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