China on Tuesday defended a new requirement that personal computers sold in the country carry a software that filters online content, saying the program is targeted at preventing the spread of pornography and other "unhealthy" content.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology posted on its Web site Tuesday a notice to all PC makers that they will be required to pre-load the "Green Dam-Youth Escort" filtering software on units to be sold in China as of July 1, including imported PCs.
The move has been met with criticism by at least one U.S.-based industry trade group, which denounced China's efforts "to build censorship capabilities right into the hardware."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang defended the government's administration of the Internet, saying it was in accordance with the law and that the software "is aimed at blocking and filtering some unhealthy content, including pornography and violence."
China, which has the world's largest population of Internet users at more than 250 million, also has one of the world's tightest controls over the Internet.
Beijing routinely blocks political sites, especially ones it considers socially destabilizing such as sites that challenge the ruling Communist Party, promote democratic reform or advocate independence for Tibet.
The government also bans Internet pornography and this year launched a nationwide crackdown that led to the closing of more than 1,900 Web sites. Web sites including Google and Baidu, China's most popular search engine, also have been criticized for linking to suspect sites.
"If you have a child, or if you're expecting a child, I think you could understand the concerns of parents about the unhealthy contents on the Internet," Qin said at a regular briefing.
The IT ministry's notice to computer makers said the "Green Dam" program would either be installed on the hard drive or enclosed on a compact disc. The notice said PC makers would be required to tell authorities how many PCs they have shipped with the software, which is made by a Chinese developer under contract with the government.
"Blocking access to pornography sounds like an acceptable goal," said Washington-based Computer & Communications Industry Association's president, Ed Black. "But the problem is that it's all too easy to use the same technology to expand the censorship."
Although porn sites are initially targeted, the program could be used to block other Web sites, too, including those based on keywords rather than specific Web addresses, although its developer said users could disable blocking of any site on the list or even uninstall the software completely.