Despite domestic and international opposition (e.g. “China Faces Criticism Over New Software Censor“) China is proceeding with its requirement that the Green Dam Youth Escort content-filtering software be installed on, or included on a compact disc accompanying the purchase of, all new computers sold in the country as of July 1. The name “Green Dam Youth Escort” conjures an image of a responsible elder guiding a youngster through a landscape dotted with levees holding back reservoirs of Internet yuckiness–or perhaps an image of an escort service that caters to minors. China’s ostensible purpose is to stem exposure to violent and pornographic content. Some critics fear the software is a vehicle for greater government monitoring of and control over dissident or other politically-unacceptable speech. Manufacturers are concerned the new software won’t play nice with operating systems and other software. The Beijing News reported the software is both over- and under-inclusive, blocking content it should permit and permitting content it should block. Computer scientists have said the software contains flaws that third parties could exploit. China, nevertheless, continues to say that July 1 compliance deadline is firm.
I’m following this story because it is interesting on its merits and because of what it says about the state of Internet law. I’m pointing my Internet law course in a new direction for the coming academic year, reducing its emphasis on theories of regulation. Current events, like this story, reflect powerful forces contending over the future of the Internet. I want students to understand these forces and what is at stake. “Code is law” continues to be an important message, but the playing field of 2009 is far more complex than that of a decade ago.