China will not enforce Green Dam porn filter plan

China said today that it will not force PC makers to bundle an Internet filtering program with computers sold in the country, backing down from a plan that stirred global controversy.

China will "definitely not" require the program, called Green Dam, to be packaged with all consumer PCs, said Li Yizhong, China's minister of industry and information technology, according to a transcript of his statements on a government Web portal.

China originally ordered all foreign and domestic PC vendors to pre-install Green Dam on new machines or to include the software on a CD-ROM. That mandate, issued in May, was indefinitely postponed just hours before it was slated to take effect last month. At the time, the Chinese government said it delayed the plan only to give PC makers more time to comply, but it did not set a new date for enforcement.

Thursday's statements were the first clear sign that China would not enforce the plan, which drew strong protest from Western PC makers and industry organizations. China has insisted that the Web filter was meant to protect children from pornography, but the program was also found to block Web sites that mentioned sensitive political topics such as Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China as a cult.

The program has spawned concerns on topics ranging from free speech and user privacy to PC security and intellectual property violations. California-based software maker Solid Oak Software Inc. claims that Green Dam uses programming code stolen from Solid Oak and last month said it was preparing legal action over the filtering application.

Li said use of the filter was meant to be optional and that the plan was misunderstood because it was not explained clearly. The software can be disabled or uninstalled.

PC makers including Lenovo, Acer and Asustek Computer have gone ahead with plans to distribute the program.

China's government will go ahead with installation of Green Dam on computers in public schools, Internet cafes and other public places, Li said. It is also working to address flaws in the program and would not rule out introducing a better filter, he said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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