Cabinet members call out China on Web filtering

Two Obama Cabinet members have asked China to revoke a rule that would require all computers sold in the country to include a controversial Internet-filtering program.

Computer companies and dissident groups have warned that the "Green Dam" program could be used to censor opinion and stifle free speech.

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China's government works hard to control what consumers see over the Internet, and the software can prevent users from accessing websites that criticize China for the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

U.S. officials also worry the rule could be used to keep U.S. computers out of the valuable Chinese market. In addition, a California company has charged the Green Dam filtering program mandated by China with being a copy of its software.

"China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues," U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in a statement.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who signed the letter to China with Locke, said the requirement would prevent computer users from choosing whether to use filtering software.

"Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope," Kirk said in a statement. "Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective, and poses a serious threat to trade."

The letter from Kirk intensifies a conflict that has been building. According to various media reports, U.S. officials in Beijing asked for talks with their Chinese counterparts on Tuesday over the issue.

China's decision to require the use of Green Dam filtering software follows pressure it applied to Google to filter its search engine findings. China's government had criticized Google for allowing its website to link to pornographic material.

Google's search engine in China is already censored. Searches for the Falun Gong group, which is outlawed in China, can turn up no results.