Fri, Jun 12, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Chinese Internet filter challenged in uproar over rights

REUTERS , BEIJING

A Chinese lawyer has demanded a public hearing to reconsider a government demand that all new personal computers carry Internet filtering software, adding to uproar over a plan critics say is ineffective and intrusive.

Li Fangping (李方平), a Beijing human rights advocate, has asked the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to allow hearings on the “lawfulness and reasonableness” of the demand, which takes effect from July 1 and was publicized only this week.

“This administrative action lacks a legal basis,” Li wrote in a submission to the ministry that was sent to reporters by e-mail yesterday. “Designating that the same software must be installed in all computers affects citizens’ rights to choose.”

Li’s demand, and denunciations of the plan from Chinese rights groups, have expanded a public battle over the “Green Dam” filtering software, despite a state media effort to promote the software as a welcome way to prevent children being exposed to pornography.

Many citizens worry such software and other measures are being imposed to deter discussion of sensitive political topics, especially in this year of controversial anniversaries, Li said.

“Above all, we’re concerned about freedom of speech and the right to know,” he said. “We know that citizens have been prosecuted because of their private e-mails, and we’re worried about more such cases.”

Chinese human rights and gay advocacy groups have demanded the software plan be immediately quashed.

A statement from five groups sent by e-mail said the software threatened to cripple access to many of the gay community Web sites that have flourished in recent years.

The software works by judging whether Web site pages may show large amounts of exposed flesh.

Wan Yanhai (萬延海), a leader of the Beijing-based Aizhixing organization, which works on AIDS and gay rights, said he was preparing a mass petition to mobilize opposition to the software.

“We need to demand not just the lifting of this software decree, but also an end to restrictions on gay publications,” Wan said. “This is about opposing censorship.”

Chinese state media have promoted the compulsory installation plan as an effective way to staunch the flow of pornography.

“If you have children or are expecting a child you could understand the concerns of the parents over unhealthy online content,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) told reporters on Tuesday.

State television news said the software can be shut off and erased if users choose, and does not collect personal information.

China is one of the world’s fastest-growing PC markets, and has hundreds of millions of Internet users. Research firm Gartner forecasts total PC shipments will climb by about 3 percent this year to more than 42 million units.

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