Green Dam Goes Mobile?

By: Lindsey Ma on 23 March 2010

Last year when China’s Ministry of Public Security announced a directive calling for the obligatory pre-installation of Internet filtering software on all computers sold in China, the public response was one of widespread concern and opposition. After pervasive criticism and resistance, the plans for systematic installation of the software, known as “Green Dam – Youth Escort,” were eventually put on hold indefinitely.

Late last week, however, clear signs that the government remains committed to forcing the software on China’s citizens began to surface. According to the State Council Information Office (SCIO), during the period from January 15th to February 28th, 2010, the complaint centre of the National Office for “Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications” (Quanguo “sao huang da fei” bangongshi), received 76 letters from concerned university students calling for greater measures to crack down on Internet pornography.1 Among the suggestions reportedly raised by these students was a proposed government mandate for the “obligatory pre-installation of the Green Dam software on all cellular telephones before they leave the factories.”2

According to the article, the suggestion to enforce the pre-installation of Green Dam on cellular phones was not only raised by student complaints. On March 5th, the Southern Metropolis Daily (Nanfang dushi bao) was informed that National People’s Congress (NPC) representative and general manager of China Mobile’s Chongqing office, Shen Changfu had also raised a similar suggestion. Shen insisted that it is now essential to create a ‘net’ across all segments of communication (including computers and cellular phones) in order to conceal and filter out all unhealthy, illegal information and protect the safety of netizens. In light of this, he suggested the obligatory installation of filtering software on both computers and mobile telephones in order to block out obscene and pornographic content.

Based on these suggestions, informal discussions of a new Green Dam mandate - this time for the pre-installation of the software on cellular phones – appear to have already begun. However, in spite of efforts to frame the project as a timely response to students’ concerns, early signs show that the new Green Dam project is likely to face similar opposition to last year’s initiative. In an open online poll started last Friday by the Southern Daily (Nanfang Ribao), 64% of respondents so far have expressed opposition to the idea of mandatory filtering software installed on their phones.3 How the government will handle public opinion on the Green Dam software this year is a critical question and will be central to the success or failure of the project. However, if a new directive is indeed put in place, China’s citizens may soon be facing a new chapter in unprecedented online censorship, surveillance and control.

Photo by Flickr user Milika Sekulic