The debate continues around the world about whether computers should be required to blacklist porn and other sites, and now according to a New York Times report China will require pre-installed software on all new PCs that permits the government to proscribe sites that would be harmful to web surfers. If recent history is any guide, this means censoring sites that speak out against government policies or against corruption. [Update: China Backs down…read footnote in the expanded post]
From the New York Times:
China Requires Censoring on New PCs
By ANDREW JACOBS
Published: June 8, 2009
BEIJING — China has issued a sweeping directive requiring all personal computers sold in the country to include sophisticated software that can filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the Internet.
The rules, issued last month in a government directive, ratchet up Internet restrictions that are already among the most stringent in the world. China regularly blocks Web sites that discuss the Dalai Lama, the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, and the Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement.
Called “Green Dam” — a reference to slogans that describe a smut-free Internet as “green” — the software is designed to filter out sexually explicit images and words, according to the company that designed it. Computer experts, however, warn that once installed, the software could be directed to block all manner of content or allow the government to monitor Internet use and collect personal information.
On Monday, Green Dam’s own Web site offered a hint of discontent over the filtering software. On the bulletin board section of the site, one writer described it as a “web devil” and several users complained that pornographic images slipped through or that their computers had become painfully slow. “It seems pretty lousy so far,” one posting said.
By Monday night, however, most of the comments had been deleted.
A similar debate has swirled within the librarian communities and library users in the US and Australia, where filtering software is in widespread use. In the US it is referred to as content filtering but it may also be called blocking. Schools have filtered on their computers for years, where it is not really a civil rights issue, but the majority of US libraries have not. Some libraries in the US have warning signs next to their computers making parents aware that content on the computers is not filtered. In the US this is generally regarded as a constitutional issue related to the right of free expression (being a part of the first amendment to the US constitution, adopted by Congress in 1789 and sent to the states for ratification). The American Library Association Bill of Rights, adopted in 1948, has been cited many times in the debate — librarians, in general, seem to want to preserve the right of access to all materials, and this would apply to Internet-based materials (web or otherwise).
 Update: China “backs down” on compulsory Green Dam software installation.