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Why China Backed Down on the Green Dam

August 18, 2009

After the June elections in Iran, the color green was used to symbolize freedom, protest, and the desperate desire for regime change. But in China, attempts at the most expansive internet censorship initiative also aligned itself with this color.

The Green Dam filtering system was supposed to be a part of a mandated program to be installed on every new computer in China, blocking out “harmful” content that would range from pornography to, say, the history of events taking place in Tiananmen Square. But after clear disagreement was voiced by the Chinese, the government is now backpedaling, saying that its intentions were misunderstood and it never planned to take the Green Dam so far.

“[China] floats new laws to gauge reaction. If the reaction is negative, the law oftentimes never comes into being,”said Dan Harris on his site, China Law Blog (as noted by CPJ). The government’s decision to back off instead of pushing forward with even more force is a good sign that the country might be more willing to listen to its people.

Although the program will not be required on every computer, it will still be installed on public computers. And even without Green Dam, China’s censored web will still ensure that any searches on Tiananmen Square won’t suggest it is anything more than the largest urban plaza in the world.

“China is the benchmark, the gold standard, of Internet censorship,” says Ken Berman whose company is working on a program called “feed over email” which will help users around the world get around internet censors. He told AFP, “The idea is to extend freedom of the Internet; freedom of the press, freedom of inquiry to those that want to know more.” (Click here to read more about the project.)

The Chinese people will remain blocked from certain news and accurate information, but this latest move by the Chinese government can still be seen as a rare moment of progress in freedom and free speech.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.