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Beijing tells computer makers to install web blocking software

China is planning to force computer manufacturers to install software on all new personal computers that would filter out "unhealthy" information, report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Ostensibly to protect young people from "harmful content", especially pornography, the "Green Dam" software was created by the military-backed company Jinhui. It must be preloaded - preinstalled or enclosed on a CD - on all PCs to be sold in China as of 1 July.

"The idea that Beijing now needs to place another filter inside each of the 40 million PCs sold annually in the country to protect the public raises suspicion that the authorities have ulterior and more sinister motives," said CPJ.

RSF is urging the companies that sell computers to the Chinese market not to comply with the instruction, "which will make them accomplices to censorship."

In May, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told computer manufacturing companies that they had six weeks to install the software, which would be paid for by public funds in the first year. According to "The Wall Street Journal", the software would link PCs with a regularly updated database of banned sites and block access to those addresses.

According to the "Guardian", in the face of public opposition China now says the software will not be compulsory. "PC makers are only required to save the set-up files of the program in the hard drives of the computers, or provide CD-ROMs containing the program with their PC packages," the English-language "China Daily" quoted an official saying on 15 June.

"The users have the final say on the installation of the Green Dam Youth Escort, so it is misleading to say the government compels PC users to use the software ... The government's role is limited to having the software developed and providing it free," says the paper.

RSF reports that since March, the software has been downloaded three million times, is reportedly used in 2,279 schools and has been installed in some 518,000 computers. The companies Lenovo, Inspur and Hedy have apparently already installed the software in 52 million computers.

"The appearance of such a strict directive shows the need to protect foreign companies operating in China, who are forced to comply with local laws. This is why we support the need for a law like the Global Online Freedom Act, that makes it possible to stand up to the Chinese government in this kind of situation," said RSF.

China already operates an extensive Internet filtering system, popularly known as the Great Firewall, which blocks access to a range of content, from pornography to politically sensitive sites. Such sites have included those promoting Tibetan independence or referring to the Tiananmen Square massacre and the pro-democracy group Charter 08.

But that system blocks content at the network level, and many users circumvent it. The new method could give the government a way to tighten its control.

U.S. Internet companies have for years wrestled with demands from the Chinese government to censor content or share potentially private data with police. Last year Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft joined human rights and press freedom groups to announce a set of guidelines for how they would comply with censorship requests from countries like China. Known as the Global Network Initiative, the group does not include any computer hardware makers.

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    (IFJ/IFEX) - Brussels, 9 June 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed that China is preparing to launch new filtering measures to monitor and control internet use.

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