April 24, 2014

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U.S. Objects to China's Mandatory Green Dam Censorware

Yesterday, the U.S. Commerce Secretary and Trade Representative sent a letter to China’s government, objecting to China’s order, effective July 1, to require that all new PCs sold in China have preinstalled the Green Dam Youth Escort censorware program.

Here’s today’s New York Times:

Chinese officials have said that the filtering software, known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, is meant to block pornography and other “unhealthy information.”

In part, the American officials’ complaint framed this as a trade issue, objecting to the burden put on computer makers to install the software with little notice. But it also raised broader questions about whether the software would lead to more censorship of the Internet in China and restrict freedom of expression.

The Green Dam requirement puts U.S.-based PC companies, such as HP and Dell, in a tough spot: if they don’t comply they won’t be able to sell PCs in China; but if they do comply they will be censoring their customers’ Internet use and exposing customers to serious security risks.

There are at least two interesting new angles here. The first is the U.S. claim that China’s action violates free trade agreements. The U.S. has generally refrained from treating China’s Internet censorship as a trade issue, even though U.S. companies have often found themselves censored at times when competing Chinese companies were not. This unequal treatment, coupled with the Chinese government’s reported failure to define clearly which actions trigger censorship, looks like a trade barrier — but the U.S. hasn’t said much about it up to now.

The other interesting angle is the direct U.S. objection to censorship of political speech. For some time, the U.S. has tolerated China’s government blocking certain political speech in the network, via the “Great Firewall“. It’s not clear exactly how this objection is framed — the U.S. letter is not public — but news reports imply that political censorship itself, or possibly the requirement that U.S. companies participate in it, is a kind of improper trade barrier.

We’re heading toward an interesting showdown as the July 1 date approaches. Will U.S. companies ship machines with Green Dam? According to the New York Times, HP hasn’t decided, and Dell is dodging the question. The companies don’t want to lose access to the China market — but if U.S. companies participate so directly in political censorship, they would be setting a very bad precedent.

Comments

  1. brent says:

    is there any way for the PC suppliers to have their cake and eat it too? provide the censorship software but allow for it to be disabled? that way they meet the requirements of not shipping PCs without the software as well as providing their customers with devices that do the job they’ve paid for it to do.

    I don’t understand why the chinese govt don’t trust themselves enough to engage in freedom. It’s just EASIER. Daft.

  2. Tom Welsh says:

    “But it also raised broader questions about whether the software would lead to more censorship of the Internet in China”.

    Yes, the US government is enlightened enough to recognise the advantages of letting people say what they want to on the Internet – that way it can collect enough information for them to hang themselves. (As it is keeping records of every bit of data that passes over the network).

  3. Anonymous says:

    For balance of trade reasons, the US has to export goods to China. There is not choice in this, the US economy will be demolished if they can’t bring the balance of trade back to something reasonable. Hi-tech gear seems like the logical export commodity so the best thing Dell and HP can do is export “clean” machines into China and have a local Chinese agent do whatever local customizations are demanded by the authorities.

    Anyhow, google already went through all this a year ago and censorship was the winner, bit late to be worrying about that stable door now.

  4. Gognod says:

    I think the US will and have to take matters as far as they can before bending to the will of China, but ultimately if push comes to shove they will have to comply with the restrictions rather than lose the trade route, which is worth too much.
    Gognod Bead Stalk

  5. BromaCleanse says:

    Censorship can be good some times. Other times it can be annoying.

    BromaCleanse
    Flexarite

  6. IW says:

    ..but the chinese society scares the crap out of me. I might be paranoid, and I am probably too uneducated on these matters to say anything useful but I really hope that western society influences the young chinese generation enough to end whole hive mind/overwatch thing, and not the other way around.

    IW

    Pit Bike | Cover Letter Examples

  7. IW says:

    to the poster 3 posts above: When is censorship good?