News today indicating that China has indefinitely postponed its requirement that all computers sold contain censorship software sounds like good news for censorship opponents. Did their leaders finally fold under U.S. political pressure? Doubtful. Through a good Associated Press article, Chinese Blogger Wen Yunchao provides some useful insight:
Wen Yunchao, a Chinese blogger who has been among the most vocal critics of Green Dam, said he did not believe the announcement marked an end to the plan.
"They are using the word 'delay,' instead of saying they stopped the plan," Wen said. "I think that it's possible that at some point in the future the government could still enforce their policy and install software on personal computers that filters the information people are able to look at. So, I am calling this an intermediary victory."
I'm pretty sure he knows more about this issue than I do, but I have been following it as well and tend to agree with his assessment. I am a little bit surprised that China backed down at all. But from what I've read about the Green Dam censorship software, this delay might be more practical than philosophical. The software has yet to be perfected, so they may be trying to work out some kinks before forcing foreign computer manufacturers to install it.
Here's an example from a BBC article:
Articles about the "leaking dam" appeared in a number of blogs. The paradox is, bloggers observed, that the software, which analyzes skin tones, will block Garfield kittens, as they are yellow, but it won't be able to recognise pornographic images of dark-skinned people.
The article also says that certain words are censored that seem somewhat arbitrary. Additionally, computer makers have claimed that the software has security flaws that need to be addressed. The software definitely needs improvement.
This might serve as an indication that censorship just isn't that easy -- especially when you're talking about something as massive and dynamic as the internet. The best hope for those against censorship is that the obstacle presented turns out to be too great for Chinese software engineers to conquer. If the technological barrier to censorship remains high enough, then China may have no choice but to entirely abandon their plan to censor the internet. It's not at that point yet, but stay tuned.