As of 1 July, all personal computers sold in China are required to have the "Green Dam-Youth Escort" Internet filtering software resident on their hard drives or enclosed on a compact disc, reports various news outlets (here, here and here). In addition, computer makers are required to tell authorities how many PCs
they have shipped with the software included. Furthermore, all primary and secondary schools in China will be required to have the filtering software executing on their PCs as well.
Last year some 40 million PCs were sold in China.
This requirement to package filtering software has caused an outcry in Western countries as well as in China itself. Critics of the plan claim that the software, which the Chinese government says will be used to block pornographic, violent or other "unhealthy" web sites, can (or will) also be used to block out anything that the Chinese government may perceive to be threatening, and or be used by the government to monitor individual surfing habits.
The Chinese government says that the charges are not true.
As I have mentioned on the Risk Factor several times before, the Australian government has also embarked on a program to filter (or "boil the ocean" as some have called it) the Internet. Nine ISPs are currently piloting a government-backed approach that requires web sites on Australian Communications and Media Authority developed blacklist be blocked. However, according to a recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald, even though the trials are set to end next month, the government has admitted that as of now, "there are not success criteria as such."
Which of course leads to the question, if you can't define what a successful trial is, why conduct it in the first place?
After critics earlier this year claimed that the Australian government's blacklist was not only blocking pornographic web sites but also legitimate ones, the government ended up reducing the number of blocked web sites from 1,000 to under 500, the Morning Herald story says. The government had originally intended to block 10,000 web sites, but even with this number, given that there are millions of "adult" web sites and hundreds of millions of associated web pages, this approach seems like a colossal waste of time and money.
The Australian government probably wishes they had thought about the Chinese filtering software solution first, which, even though its purpose is likely not so benign as the Chinese government claims, has a better (albeit small) chance of working.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.