Li Yizhong, China’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology, announced that companies will not be required to install the Green Dam Youth Escort web filter onto their computers sold in China. This is a retraction from the original policy declared earlier this year forcing companies to include the software, which was quickly discovered to block politically sensitive material as well as material inappropriate for children. Like all victories against the Great Firewall, this one was partial.
The reversal occurred due to diverse, strong opposition to Green Dam software. Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative, and Gary Locke, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, sent a letter to Li and Chen Deming, Minister of Commerce, reminding China of its WTO obligations. The American Chamber of Commerce, individual businesses, and media all voiced their concern. A claim that the software was stolen and work by software researchers finding computer security gaps in the program added to the outcry.
However, the outcome was still mixed. Companies like Acer and Lenovo are inserting the software in their computers shipped within China. Green Dam will be installed in schools, public libraries, internet cafes, and other public locations. China is trying to fix and enhance the Green Dam software, and Li indicated the government is interested in similar web filtering products. The Communist Party’s efforts to monitor and control web content and willingness of companies to work with the Party on Internet censorship demonstrate that the Great Firewall remains strong.
However, partial victories are needed in the battle against the Party’s sensors. The Internet is perhaps the best vehicle for getting information to the Chinese people. Foreign government and business opposition to censorship, coupled with news ways to avoid web censors like “feed over email”(FOE), help create small holes in the Great Firewall, encouraging Chinese people to voice their opinions and demand better accountability from their government.