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China softens stance on Green Dam filter
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It is not often in China that a government minister softens his stance on a national order.

But Minister of Industrial and Information Technology (MIIT) Li Yizhong did that when he announced that the government's Green Dam computer software mandate was "not thoughtful enough".

The minister said at an Aug 13 news conference that the use of the software developed to filter out online pornography would "depend on consumers".

The phrase represented a significant departure from the government's orders in May that instructed computer makers to include the software on all computers sold in China.

Li stressed that the goal was still to protect children from online pornography.

"Any move to politicize the issue or to attack China's Internet management system is irresponsible and not in line with reality," the minister said.

His statement ended months of domestic controversy and complaints about Internet control from overseas governments and business organizations.

Li Chengyan, a professor at Peking University, said MIIT apparently had taken the objections seriously.

"I am glad to see that the minister has admitted to the ministry's mistake and explained what happened in order to clear up any misunderstanding," Li Chengyan said.

"That's doesn't happen in China that often," he added.

Consumer voices

Chinese consumers had worried that the Green Dam software could violate their rights to freely search the Internet as adults.

They also were concerned that potential bugs in the software would expose their systems to costly computer viruses.

It is the first time that Chinese consumers have stepped up in organized groups to protest government efforts to control the Internet.

After the order was reported by the US-based Wall Street Journal in June, consumers, media and online bloggers rallied to protest the government's decision Some consumers discovered that the Green Dam software would filter out images of Garfield, a cartoon cat with orange skin, but not filter out pictures of young women posing provocatively in skimpy dresses.

The controversy reached a climax when the media later reported that the government planned to spend 40 million yuan to purchase the software from Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System Engineering and Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy.

Concerns about computer viruses turned to worries about potential bribery and corruption.

An announcement made by the Ministry of Finance in late June claiming that it was not involved in the purchase of Green Dam further increased consumers' worries. Domestic concerns were joined by protests from abroad. The US government joined 22 international business chambers of commerce that sent letters urging China's government to reconsider its mandate.

MIIT in June had announced a delay of the installation of Green Dam software originally scheduled for July. The government explained that computer producers were demanding more time for such a massive installation.

Still, MIIT defended its policy. MIIT officials told the Xinhua News Agency that the filtering software was "an act for the public good" and added that the software conforms to "World Trade Organization (WTO) rules". The statement about the WTO apparently was in response to suggestions that the Green Dam order might be a violation of WTO rules.

Even though use by consumers now is voluntary, MIIT still will install Green Dam filters in schools and Internet cafes.

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