Jun 242009

China recently announced a policy that every computer sold must be packaged with specific software that bars it from being used to visit certain Internet sites. This so-called “Green Dam” software ostensibly is aimed at blocking child pornography and other vile sites. In Chinese, “green” and “clean” are interchangeable — here, the idea being that software is supposed to keep computers clean.

Why should we care what China does as it is a sovereign, Communist, non-democratic country? It shares no version of our First Amendment rights, and does not claim to have a free marketplace of ideas. We can even agree with the Chinese that child pornography is heinous, immoral and should be stopped in any possible way.

But the fear inside and outside of China is that this government mandate endangers human rights and technology in general. Requiring a specific software program on every computer is an invitation for both disaster and for unprecedented control. If this mandate stands, there are three possible outcomes: the software works as promised, it doesn’t work, or whether or not it works it will create havoc.

Read more by Gary Shapiro, President & CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, on Huffington Post.

Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek provides more on the technological aspects of the software:

Chinese authorities claim that Green Dam is necessary to limit young people’s exposure to “harmful information,” but University of Michigan computer scientists have identified significant vulnerabilities in the software that could lead to the installation of harmful information in the form of malware.

Although the makers of Green Dam, Jinhui Computer System Engineering and Dazheng Human Language Technology, updated the software in response to these findings, the three computer scientists who analyzed the software, Scott Wolchok, Randy Yao, and J. Alex Halderman, maintain that vulnerabilities remain. “[E]ven after the recent fix, it is still possible for any Web site a Green Dam user visits to exploit other security problems to take control of the computer,” they state in their analysis.

(Image credit: charles.hope)

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