Today's dispatch from the Associated Press about the Chinese Communist government's attempt to require that a state-developed program called "Green Dam Youth Escort" be installed on all new personal computers sold in that country is all too typical of the awful reporting on this potentially frightening development.
I will refer to Green Dam Youth Escort as "the GD software" for the balance of this post. Many readers will find this abbreviation particularly appropriate once they fully understand everything the GD software could potentially do.
The latest news about the GD software is that the government has delayed what was to be a July 1 installation requirement, but that it intends to go forward with that mandate at some point. In the meantime, for reasons not fully vetted, many PC makers have begun shipping units with the GD software either already installed or included on an accompanying CD.
Considering the gravity of what the Chinese Communist government is trying to do to its people, worldwide media coverage of the GD software has been much lighter than justified. Somehow, what may happen to the free speech and free expression rights of 1.3 billion people isn't anywhere near as important as what's happening in connection with an entertainer who has been dead for a week.
Here are key paragraphs from Joe McDonald's AP story, as carried at USA Today (bolds after title are mine:
PC makers voluntarily supply Web filter in China
Several PC makers were including controversial Internet-filtering software with computers shipped in China on Thursday despite a government decision to postpone its plan to make such a step mandatory.
Beijing's decision this week to delay the requirement that the filtering software — known as Green Dam — be pre-installed or supplied on disk with all computers sold in China averted a possible trade clash with the United States and Europe. But the move by some makers to include the software anyway could re-ignite complaints by Chinese Web users.
Also Thursday, a government newspaper said regulators will revive the plan to make Green Dam mandatory at some point, a move that would disappoint opponents who hoped the government would drop the effort.
Taiwan's Acer— the world's No. 3 PC maker —Sony and China's Haier said they were shipping Green Dam on disks with computers for sale in China. China's Lenovo, the No. 4 producer, said it would offer the software pre-installed or on disk. Taiwan's Asus said it was preparing to supply Green Dam disks with PCs. Taiwanese laptop maker BenQ said the system was on the hard drives of its computers.
Acer was supplying Green Dam because disks were already packed with PCs before the government postponed the plan, that had been due to take effect Wednesday, said a company spokeswoman, Meng Lei. Lenovo said it also was going ahead with plans made before the Green Dam order was postponed.
Hewlett-Packard, the world's top PC manufacturer, said it was working with the U.S. government to get more information and declined to comment further. No. 2 Dell said it was not including Green Dam with its PCs.
..... An official of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology quoted Thursday by the China Daily said regulators will revive the plan to make Green Dam mandatory.
..... Beijing operates extensive Internet filters to block access to material considered obscene or subversive. Still, Chinese Web users were outraged by Green Dam, which would have raised screening to a new level by putting it on each computer.
As you will see, calling the GD software a form of "Internet filtering" is like calling a telephone eavesdropping device a "call screener."
Here, from an Epoch Times article that was originally in Chinese, is a more complete description of what the GD software actually can do:
The regime says Green Dam can block pornography, filter illicit content, control web surfing time, and check browsing records. In fact, the software is capable of blocking politically sensitive websites, filtering out content based on a list of keywords, recording keystrokes and passwords, taking screenshots every 3 minutes, and recording all of the websites visited along with all of the user’s other internet activity.
….. Computer hackers in China have cracked open Green Dam’s keyword library and administrative codes.
According to the information produced by these hackers, Green Dam has 2,700 keywords relating to pornography, and 6,500 politically sensitive keywords. While these keywords include references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibet, the great majority of the keywords refer to Falun Gong, the spiritual practice the Chinese regime banned and began persecuting in 1999.
….. Analysts believe that Green Dam gives the regime the ability to tighten its control by collecting personal information and secretly sending it to a central database, while strengthening the regime’s ability to censor the internet. The collected information could then be used to persecute dissidents.
In 2003 the Chinese regime launched the Golden Shield, also known as the Great Firewall of China, an internet filtering system that cost tens of billions of yuan. The Internet Freedom Consortium believes Golden Shield is the world’s most stringent web filtering system.
….. However, Golden Shield can be circumvented by such popular anti-filtering software programs as FreeGate, UltraSurf, and Garden. Green Dam can block these programs.
Chinese users of Green Dam have found that the Green-Dam injects a dll file into Internet Explorer that prohibits the usage of FreeGate. Analysts predict that Green Dam will in its future updates add code that will prohibit the usage of proxy servers, another anti-blockage technology.
The makers of Green Dam claim that, while the software will be pre-installed, users can remove it.
A mainland Chinese computer expert discovered the truth after he installed and uninstalled the screening software. He said, “When we used its [Green Dam] uninstallation program to uninstall the software, about half of Green Dam’s 110 system files continued to reside in the computer. After restarting the computer, Green Dam’s screening program is running actively in the background. The only part of the software uninstalled is its user interface.”
The expert added, “Pre-loading the screening software and providing an uninstallation program that does not actually uninstall the software is an act of coercion. Green Dam project is a coercive software.”
What I have seen from the AP has consistently described the GD software as "Internet filtering" at least as far back as this June 21 report.
This June 12 Christian Science Monitor article by Peter Ford confirms that the GD software goes well beyond blocking only pornographic material and terms, and that "its makers, Jinhui, boast on their website that Green Dam offers “real-time screen captures, detailed Internet usage records for post-facto monitoring,” and a tool to disable proxy servers, which many Chinese Internauts use to get around the “great firewall” and into sensitive political sites that would otherwise be blocked by existing filters.
Clearly, the GD software is intended to complete the task of perfecting the Chinese police state's control of computers and communications. If that actually occurs, the world described by George Orwell in "1984," at least technologically speaking, would look like a relative picnic.
Only four things appear to stand in the way of the GD software's success:
- PC maker resistance, which appears weak to noncommittal;
- Pressure from other governments, which appears to be mostly the same;
- Technical problems -- the software is very buggy, according to this review of the program by three members of the Computer Science and Engineering Division at the University of Michigan, though it's tough not to wonder if the Chinese Communists really consider some of the alleged "bugs" to be "features";
- World opinion, which thanks to light establishment media reporting, has been mostly muted.
The Western press's failure to give prominence to news about the GD software, its totally inaccurate description of its capabilities, and its failure to explore potentially horrible implications for the human rights of the Chinese people may someday be seen as an unforgivable journalistic failure.
A related post is at BizzyBlog.com.