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Open Letter to Computer Makers Regarding Chinese Filtering Software Directive

Letter sent to Dell, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, and Lenovo Group, Ltd.

Dear Sir:

I am writing to express concern over the Chinese government's directive of May 19, 2009, "Notification Regarding Requirements for Pre-Installing Green Filtering Software on Computers," and the human rights implications it may have for your company in China and abroad.

As you are aware, this directive requires computer manufacturers to pre-install or otherwise include Green Online Filtering Software (Green Dam Youth Escort) on all computers sold in China after July 1, 2009. The stated purpose of this directive is to allow internet website filtering so that children are not exposed to objectionable content. We recognize that parents or guardians should have the choice to install user-controllable software in order to filter online content that they deem objectionable for children in their care. However, there are credible reports that this software goes far beyond that purpose and may actually censor political and religious speech. In this context, the directive may be the beginning of an attempt by the government to increase its efforts to curtail free expression; further intrude on user privacy; and undermine user choice by replacing an individual's choice to filter with a government mandate to censor. It also has the potential to make companies complicit in those efforts.

The Chinese government has already developed the world's most advanced system of internet censorship and surveillance, known as the "great firewall." In recent years, the Chinese government's censorship efforts have accelerated, and foreign companies have been pressured to provide cooperation and technical assistance. Chinese citizens who post content considered by the government to be "sensitive" on overseas websites are liable to severe official reprisals. The same technology which will allow the Chinese government to filter out "pornographic" web sites can easily be extended to include any and all internet content which the government rules as harmful to the official goal of a "harmonious society." 

We welcome the statements by numerous industry associations on the Chinese government's filtering mandate as a first step to address this problematic directive. We urge you to enlist other governments and companies to pressure the Chinese government to alter its policy. In addition, it is essential for companies to address in a systematic manner the problems posed by this directive in China and other efforts to curtail online rights in other countries. An important next step is to adopt and implement meaningful policies and procedures to safeguard human rights, such as those promoted by the Global Network Initiative, a multistakeholder effort to safeguard freedom of expression and privacy online.

I hope that your company will expeditiously address these human rights issues and welcome the opportunity to further discuss how to best address the problem.



Arvind Ganesan
Director, Business and Human Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

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