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China Internet Filtering Plan Spurs Backlash From Human Rights Groups

Industry watchers point to the potential of the Green Dam Youth Escort software to impact human rights and open PCs to malicious attacks, but the Chinese government says the software is for keeping children away from pornography.

Earlier this week, the Chinese government mandated that all PCs sold in the country must include "Green Dam Youth Escort" Internet-filtering software.

That mandate is aimed at curbing the availability of pornography to the country's children, according to the government, but reports out of China say that many of its citizens are concerned about its potential for curbing discussions about sensitive political topics.

The software requirement is scheduled to begin July 1.

Reuters on Thursday reported that a Beijing human rights advocate has asked China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to hold hearings on the requirement, and that computer users should have the right to choose whether or not to install the filtering software.

Chinese-based human rights and gay advocacy groups also are denouncing the move because of the potential for accessing information on human rights issues, Reuters said.

On Tuesday, U.S.-based industry organizations such as the Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica released a statement calling on the Chinese government to reconsider implementing the mandatory filtering software.

"We believe there should be an open and healthy dialog on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice," the statement read in part.

Meanwhile, reports from the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), New York Times and others say that the software could be disastrous for PC users in China because of software flaws that could allow hackers to steal private information or infect the PCs with malicious programs.

Other attackers might be able to use the software flaws to create a botnet of hijacked computers to launch spam or attacks on commercial or government Web sites, the BBC reported.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday said that one of the developers of Green Dam Youth Escort software said privacy concerns are overblown.

Bryan Zhang, founder of Jinhui Computer System Engineering, one of two companies that developed the software, demonstrated it to the Journal and said that users would have to manually install the software, even if it was included on a new PC.

Users would have password access to the ability to turn the software on or off, to uninstall it and to access the settings to turn on or off filtering for five types of content, including "adult/pornography," "extreme adult/pornography," "violent games," "homosexuality" and "illegal activities/drugs," the Journal wrote.

However, according to the Journal, such capabilities may not quell privacy concerns, especially because neither users nor the developers have access to a Chinese government "black list" of blocked Web sites.

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