The US adminstration is pushing China to review its controversial policy of mandating the installation of specific content filtering software on new PCs.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk argue China may be placing itself in violation of World Trade Organization regulations by insisting on the pre-installing of a locally developed censorware package called Green Dam-Youth Escort on new computers from 1 July. The same restriction applies to PCs imported into China.
The US objection to the plan, sent in a letter to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Commerce, urges a rethink. Alongside restrictions to free trade, the protest letter also touches on concerns that Green Dam might lead to more censorship and restriction on internet use in China. The US protest also refers to fears that the security shortcomings of the censorware software might create a handy mechanism towards forming a monster botnet of compromised PCs in China.
"China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues," Locke said in a Department of Commerce statement on its objection.
Chinese authorities maintain that Green Dam is needed in order to block pornography and other objectional content. China already deploys ISP-level controls, but it also wants to introduce client-side filters, in the shape of pre-installing Green Dam on new PCs.
China's unenviable reputation for internet censorship means trade and human rights groups are convinced Green Dam's core functions will include further frustrating access to politically sensitive material, such as the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, Tibet and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of democracy protesters.
"Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope," US trade representative Kirk argues.
"Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious barrier to trade."
Security researchers at the University of Michigan found a web filtering vulnerability and a blacklist update vulnerability after just hours of testing the software. They warn that Green Dam creates a means for malicious websites to commandeer the PCs of Chinese surfers who stray onto their sites in a paper here. Green Dam is already fairly widely used in China, but the suggestion, backed up by separate posts on security forums about supposed exploits, is that it's not particularly well written, is poorly tested and full of holes.
In related news, Solid Oak Software, which markets the CYBERsitter parental content software, alleges Green Dam rips off its proprietary code. It has written to HP and Dell urging them to refrain from shipping the software, the China Post reports. ®