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China rights lawyer challenges Internet filtering policy

[JURIST] Chinese human rights lawyer Li Fangping has challenged a government mandate requiring Internet filter software on all new personal computers, according to media reports Thursday. Fangping demanded public hearings [Reuters report] from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) [official website, in Chinese] to determine if the requirement is lawful and reasonable. The software, called "Green Dam," blocks web content [China Daily report] containing content such as pornography, drugs, homosexuality, or violence, but apparently does not filter political content. The developers of the software confirmed the general categories of restricted content but declined to share a more specified list with the media. Announced Tuesday by the MIIT, the compulsory policy aims to protect children from "harmful" content and takes effect on July 1. In a press conference [transcript], Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson Qin Gang maintained that the Internet in China is open but that the government can regulate it in accordance with law to safeguard the public. There have been concerns about security vulnerabilities [Sina report, in Chinese] that the software might create, putting users' personal information at risk. According to a poll by Sina [media website, in Chinese], 83 percent of those asked were opposed to the software.

Internet censorship in China has been a contested issue for several years. While the MIIT oversees the censorship, the State Council Information Office and the Communist Party's Propaganda Department determines the scope of what is blocked. During the 2008 Olympics, while the government was supposed to refrain from Internet censorship, the Global Internet Freedom Consortium [advocacy website] provided software to reporters to circumvent Internet restrictions [press release]. In 2007, Thailand passed a law [JURIST report] aimed at quashing Internet pornography and libel to allow authorities to confiscate and search private computers. Also in 2007, Google [corporate website] urged the US government to fight the rise of global Internet censorship, calling it the "single greatest trade barrier we currently face." According to a report [HRW report] released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] in 2006, nine state-licensed Internet access providers ultimately control access to foreign networks for all users and retail service providers.

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