Commerce Dept. Urges China to Dump Green Dam Plan

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-06-24 Print this article Print

With the Chinese July 1 deadline looming for PC makers to install filtering software on all PCs produced and sold in China, Obama officials urge Beijing to reconsider the mandate.

Officials of the Obama administration urged China June 24 to revoke a rule set to take effect July 1 that would mandate all computers produced and sold in China pre-install a widely criticized Internet filtering program called Green Dam. China claims the filtering software is needed to allow Chinese citizens to surf the Internet protected from explicit adult content.

The Chinese mandate raises a number of concerns for PC makers such as HP, Dell and Lenovo, as well as privacy, human rights and security groups.

In a letter to their Chinese counterparts, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said
the proposed new rule raises fundamental questions regarding regulatory transparency and notes concerns about compliance with WTO (World Trade Organization) rules, such as notification obligations. The letter also questions the stability of the software, the scope and extent of the filtering activities and its security weaknesses.

"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 statement.

The letter also offered China an opportunity to exchange views with the U.S. on ways in which parental control software can be promoted in the market consistent with the goals of user choice, system reliability, freedom of expression and the free flow of information.

"Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope," Kirk said. "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."

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, the Green Dam software contains serious security vulnerabilities due to programming errors. The researchers claim once the software is installed, any Web site the user visits can exploit the programming errors to take control of the computer.

"This could allow malicious sites to steal private data, send spam or enlist the computer in a botnet," the researchers wrote. "In addition, we found vulnerabilities in the way Green Dam processes blacklist updates that could allow the software makers or others to install malicious code during the update process.

PC manufacturers who accommodate the Chinese government's mandate could face charges of enabling censorship, while those who resist face sales losses and difficulties with factories inside China.


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