New software to screen out pornographic text and images and to stop those under 18 from surfing the Internet will soon be installed in more than 110,000 computers in Shanghai's 1,329 Internet cafes.
The Shanghai Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and Television has invested 7 million yuan (US$843,400) to develop and install software to screen out pornographic information and images and to stop those under 18 from surfing the Internet, officials said.
The software has already won the approval of the Ministry of Culture, and a pilot project involving several Shanghai's 1,329 Internet cafes began in April. Installation is expected to be completed in June.
Officials believe that with the software, minors will effectively be shut out as customers of Internet cafes. The system requires that users key in an identification number to operate the computer.
If the customer is identified as a minor under the age of 18, the computer will automatically shut down. The software will also screen out pornographic and violent webpages.
The issue has aroused heated debate on censorship and privacy.
Some "netizens" and lawyers are concerned that the software is an invasion of people's privacy.
University senior Kelly Li said, "After all, we are already adults and we know what webpages to visit and which not to."
In the Oriental Morning Post, Professor Wu Hong of the East China University of Politics and Law wrote that such software limits the choices of adult customers.
But others point out that Internet cafes are public places where pornographic web pages that one customer views may be visible to others. They argue that the government thus has the right to place limitations in this behavior.
Experts point out such censorship occurs in other countries, and China is not alone in doing this.
Officials point out that the software will not store records of webpages a customer visits, but will only differentiate between pornographic or violent webpages and "normal" ones in order to screen out the objectionable material.
They added that no one will know who the customers are or what sites they have visited, and they will not receive any punishment.
Some lawyers believe that the customer privacy is not harmed and the software is not infringing on the customers' rights.
Sichuan, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have already installed similar systems in their local Internet cafes. They report good results in blocking pornographic information and keeping minors out.
(China Daily April 30, 2004)