Source: Official website of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China
[English Translation by HRIC, August 2009]
The Press Office of the State Council planned a press conference on August 13, 2009 (Thursday) at 10:00 a.m. Mr. Li Yizhong (李毅中), Minister of Industry and Information Technology, was invited to give a briefing on how to intensify industrial structural adjustments while maintaining steady and relatively fast industrial growth and to answer questions from reporters.
[Reporter from Phoenix Television]: Thank you, host. Some media have recently reported the emergence of cell phone eavesdropping software, which, after application, allows other parties to monitor the content on other people’s cell phones, even when the phone is in standby mode. Many people are worried that this might infringe on citizens’ existing rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Is the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology taking any measures to protect citizens’ privacy rights on the Internet and on their mobile phones? Also, regarding “Green Dam,” the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently announced that it would postpone the compulsory installation of this software. What is the current plan of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology?
Li Yizhong: China is a big cell phone country. We currently have 650,000,000 cell phone users. Cell phones have already penetrated people's lives and brought enormous convenience. There are about 338,000,000 Internet users in China. So, as everyone enjoys the fruits of modern information technology, it is understandable that people worry about individual privacy issues, as the reporter from Phoenix Television has just brought up.
Chinese laws protect individual freedom of communication and privacy, without question. However, it is also true that some use the Internet, cell phones, and SMS text messaging to disseminate harmful information that violates provisions of the law, such as, for example, obscene pornography and obstructions of national security, and this is something that cannot be permitted under Chinese law. There are also the “spam SMS messages” that everybody finds very annoying, which waste our energy and time. Should we manage and regulate this type of behavior that violates the law? The answer is, definitely. This is how it is in China. This is how it is in other countries as well.
As for the “Green Dam” you just mentioned, it refers to filtering software installed on computers to filter out obscene and pornographic information that hinders the healthy development of minors. This project was started in 2006. As I, too, mentioned just now, along with the dissemination of information on computers and cell phones, a lot of pornographic and obscene information, videos, and photographs in fact pass through these channels, which influence and poison our minors. The government and other sectors in society have received many a tearful plea from parents, “Save my child.” I think this is not only the parents’ plea, but also the hope shared by many social organizations and community leaders. Therefore, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, with the cooperation and support of other relevant departments, started this project in 2006, invited public bids, and chose two filtering software programs. It then used the method of government procurement to acquire the ownership of the products and services for these two software programs in order to install the filtering software in schools, Internet cafes, and other public venues with the goal of filtering out, reducing, and mitigating the poisoning of young people. This was an entirely public interest action, beyond reproach.
We first installed this software on computers in schools, Internet cafes, and other community and public venues. Because the software was just developed, its filtering effectiveness is 90 percent. The response from the community has been pretty good, with hopes for expansion of some of its scope. After thus going through a round of investigation and research, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a document on May 19 of this year suggesting that these two software programs be installed on computers produced and sold in China, with the goal of mitigating and reducing the harm to society.
The original intent of this action follows the rules of the market and the principle of free will, since, once this software is installed, you can either use it or not. When buying a computer, it will come as a complementary floppy disk or CD-ROM, and the right to decide [whether to use it or not] will rest with the parents and the community. The fault, the mistake, was that this document was not thought through and did not express this clearly, giving everyone the impression that it was mandatory. That is why, after the document was published, it caused a pretty big response from society. I think that the vast majority of opinions were well-intended and that they were all objections and suggestions about the way we had not thought through our job.
There are also some individuals who targeted their questions at some ambiguities, such as whether their personal privacy would be controlled by others after they install the software. Does this software have any other function besides filtering obscene pornographic information? There are also some individuals who have questioned whether this was in conflict with the WTO. There have been questions like this, both at home and abroad, and I, along with [Minster of Commerce] Chen Deming, have received letters from some American and Western European business organizations. I believe most of them are well-intentioned. We held a press conference on June 30, at which we explained and clarified the aforementioned situation, so I will not expound on it in detail here.
However, there are a few individuals who insist on magnifying and politicizing this issue to the point of attacking our system of managing the Internet, and I feel that these attacks do not correspond to facts and are irresponsible. In answering reporters’ questions, we have already stated very plainly that due to various reasons, we are postponing the compulsory installation of this software. As to what the next step in installation and pre-installation [procedures] will be, we will listen to a broad array of opinions to improve this program. We are still going to install the software on computers in schools, Internet cafes, and other public venues. As for general consumers, we will fully respect everyone’s freedom of choice, and mandatory pre-installation on all computers sold will definitely not happen; there is no question of that. I trust that this will be handled properly.
As for some flaws of this software itself, it is currently being improved. Of course, we are not excluding the possibility that there may be better software, that there can be more options, or that [we] can be more market-oriented.