July 3, 2009

Latest Pajamas Media Column (‘Tech’s Repressive Dark Side Threatens Us All’) Is Up (Related: Latest on China’s ‘Green Dam’)

GreenDamChineseSoftwareGraphic0709.jpgIt’s here.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog on Sunday (link won’t work until then) when the blackout expires.

Subheadline: “What do Iran, China, and the U.S. have in common? More than you might think.”

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Related: China’s police state, with whom the members of the BizzyBlog Internet Wall of Shame have been cooperating for almost four years, wants to require that a government-developed program called “Green Dam” be installed on all new computers sold in that country.

This is “1984″ arriving with full force 25 years later. It goes far, far beyond “web filtering” (which is bad enough), an understated characterization that all too many media reports are using.

This excerpt from an Epoch Times article describes Green Dam’s functions and purposes (bolds are mine):

“Green Dam-Youth Escort” was developed by Jinhui Computer Systems Inc. and Dazheng Language Process Inc., with the former in charge of image filtration and the later keyword filtration. In 2005, Dazheng was involved in the development of a “secret files intercept system” for the Chinese army. According to its Web site, Jinhui has worked with both the Chinese army and the public security ministry.

The regime says Green Dam can block pornography, filter illicit content, control web surfing time, and check browsing records. In fact, the software is capable of blocking politically sensitive websites, filtering out content based on a list of keywords, recording keystrokes and passwords, taking screenshots every 3 minutes, and recording all of the websites visited along with all of the user’s other internet activity.

….. Computer hackers in China have cracked open Green Dam’s keyword library and administrative codes.

According to the information produced by these hackers, Green Dam has 2,700 keywords relating to pornography, and 6,500 politically sensitive keywords. While these keywords include references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibet, the great majority of the keywords refer to Falun Gong, the spiritual practice the Chinese regime banned and began persecuting in 1999.

….. Analysts believe that Green Dam gives the regime the ability to tighten its control by collecting personal information and secretly sending it to a central database, while strengthening the regime’s ability to censor the internet. The collected information could then be used to persecute dissidents.

In 2003 the Chinese regime launched the Golden Shield, also known as the Great Firewall of China, an internet filtering system that cost tens of billions of yuan. The Internet Freedom Consortium believes Golden Shield is the world’s most stringent web filtering system.

….. However, Golden Shield can be circumvented by such popular anti-filtering software programs as FreeGate, UltraSurf, and Garden. Green Dam can block these programs.

Chinese users of Green Dam have found that the Green-Dam injects a dll file into Internet Explorer that prohibits the usage of FreeGate. Analysts predict that Green Dam will in its future updates add code that will prohibit the usage of proxy servers, another anti-blockage technology.

The makers of Green Dam claim that, while the software will be pre-installed, users can remove it.

A mainland Chinese computer expert discovered the truth after he installed and uninstalled the screening software. He said, “When we used its [Green Dam] uninstallation program to uninstall the software, about half of Green Dam’s 110 system files continued to reside in the computer. After restarting the computer, Green Dam’s screening program is running actively in the background. The only part of the software uninstalled is its user interface.”

The expert added, “Pre-loading the screening software and providing an uninstallation program that does not actually uninstall the software is an act of coercion. Green Dam project is a coercive software.”

Green Dam was supposed to be mandatory on all new PCs shipped in China beginning on July 1, but the government “delayed” the order. Nevertheless, many new PCs are shipping with the software either installed or on an accompanying CD (note the mischaracterization of Green Dam’s range of functions):

PC makers voluntarily supply Web filter in China

Several PC makers were including controversial Internet-filtering software with computers shipped in China on Thursday despite a government decision to postpone its plan to make such a step mandatory.

Beijing’s decision this week to delay the requirement that the filtering software — known as Green Dam — by pre-installed or supplied on disk with all computers sold in China averted a possible trade clash with the United States and Europe. But the move by some makers to include the software anyway could reignite complaints by Chinese Web users.

Also Thursday, a government newspaper said regulators will revive the plan to make Green Dam mandatory at some point, a move that would disappoint opponents who hoped the government would drop the effort.

Taiwan’s Acer Inc. — the world’s third-largest PC maker — Sony Corp. and China’s Haier Group said they were shipping Green Dam on disks with computers for sale in China. Taiwan’s Asus Inc. said it was preparing to do so. Taiwanese laptop maker BenQ Inc., said the system was on the hard drives of its computers.

Acer was supplying Green Dam because disks already were packed with PCs before the government postponed the plan, that had been due to take effect Wednesday, said a company spokeswoman, Meng Lei. Other companies did not give reasons for supplying the system.

Hewlett-Packard Inc., the world’s top PC manufacturer, said it was working with the U.S. government to get more information and declined to comment further. Dell Inc., the No. 2 producer, did not immediately respond to questions about its plans.

China’s Lenovo Group, the No. 4 producer, did not immediately respond to questions, but the official China Daily newspaper said Green Dam was included with its PCs.

If the PC makers roll over on this, membership in the BizzyBlog Wall of Shame will grow substantially. I would suggest that, absent a back-down, anyone who buys a computer from a PC maker that continues to ship units with Green Dam already installed is assisting in the oppression of over a billion fellow human beings.

Contrary to naively accepted conventional wisdom, technology in and of itself is an not an automatic freedom-enhancer. In the wrong hands, especially in the absence of a robust defense of our God-given rights to free expression, speech, and personal privacy, it’s clearly a serious threat.

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UPDATE, 5:20 p.m. — A related post is at NewsBusters.

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