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China official affirms that controversial Internet filtering software not mandatory

[JURIST] Chinese authorities reaffirmed Tuesday that computer users will not be required to use controversial filtering software, according to media reports. An official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) [official website, in Chinese] echoed earlier statements [AP report] made by state media that, while the "Green Dam" filtering software must be packaged with new computers, users will not be required to use or install the software. The statements clarify that the government has no intention of punishing people who do not use the software. The software blocks web sites [China Daily report] containing content such as pornography, drugs, homosexuality, or violence, but apparently does not filter political content. The policy, which takes effect on July 1, aims at protecting children from "harmful" content.

Last week, the policy was challenged [JURIST report] by Chinese human rights lawyer Li Fangping, who demanded public hearings to determine if the requirement is lawful and reasonable. 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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