Controversial Internet filter optional, says top Chinese official


June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 13, 2009 at 4:31 PM EDT

A top Beijing official said Thursday that a controversial Internet filter software was optional for all users after plans to install it on computers sold in China triggered a storm of protest.

"After you install the software, you can use it or you can decide not to use it," said Li Yizhong, minister of industry and information technology.

"When you buy a computer, a floppy disk or CD (with the software) is given out, and the right to choose resides with the parent, with society," he told reporters in Beijing.

News emerging in June that all computer makers had been ordered to install the software caused outcry in China and abroad, with critics accusing the government of trying to increase controls over the Internet.

Beijing consistently countered that the filter was designed to shelter youngsters from pornography and violence, and to give parents control over what their children view online.

But China abruptly postponed the plan on the eve of July 1, when it had planned to implement the rule.

Li said China would not force all computer makers to pre-install the software -- called Green Dam Youth Escort -- on the machines.

He acknowledged the plan had not been explained well enough, and said China would solicit the public's views over the software.

But he said China would continue to load it in public places such as schools and Internet cafes.

A US computer trade association welcomed the Chinese move.

"Internet filtering is a prior restraint on free speech and that restraint on the flow of ideas inhibits everything from democracy to economic development," said Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

"China?s decision to block enforcement of Green Dam for PCs breaks what would have been a logjam on the free flow of information," he said in a statement. "It's a wise move and a win for free speech, access to information and trade."

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