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IN THE NEWS - China Delays Plan for Web-Blocking Software on New Computers

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, China delayed an order to require Internet-filtering software in all new personal computers. News of the delay turned a planned Internet boycott into an all-day celebration at a restaurant in Beijing.

(SOUND)

Artist and activist Ai Weiwei organized the event. He had proposed a twenty-four hour Internet boycott on Wednesday -- the day the plan was supposed to go into effect. He used online tools such as Twitter to invite people to the restaurant.

AI WEIWEI: "It's just to let people know what our attitude is towards this kind of censorship."

Last month, the government said all new computers sold in China would have to have Internet-blocking software installed. It said the program, called Green Dam Youth Escort, would protect young Internet users from pornography.

Young people at an Internet cafe in Beijing. China has nearly 300 million Internet users.
Young people at an Internet cafe in Beijing. China has nearly 300 million Internet users.

But many critics say it could also block access to sites containing politically sensitive information or follow users on the Web.

For weeks, foreign officials and industry groups expressed opposition to the order. They objected for political, commercial and technical reasons. Trade groups appealed to Premier Wen Jiabao. Computer makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard said they might go to the World Trade Organization.

But many of those who celebrated the delay do not believe it will be permanent.

China has nearly three hundred million Internet users, more than any other country. It also has some of the strongest Internet controls in the world.

But cybersecurity involves more than just issues of free speech.

For example, American Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Defense Department last week to establish a Cyber Command. Officials say a Cybercom is needed to defend the military's computer networks. One successful attack last year infected thousands of computers.

The department also says it wants to unify cyber defense, so that offense, defense and intelligence all work together.

Charles Palmer is chairman and director of research for the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection at Dartmouth College. He says cyberspace defense will become increasingly necessary for countries. If someone can bring down a nation's computers, he says, then there is no reason to attack its military.

In May, President Obama announced a new cybersecurity office for the White House. He said the nation's computer networks will now be treated as a "strategic national asset."

BARACK OBAMA: "Indeed, in today's world, acts of terror could come not only from a few extremists in suicide vests, but from a few keystrokes on the computer, a weapon of mass disruption."

He said the United States does not do enough to protect its computer networks. Hackers even got into the computer system of his presidential campaign last year. But he also promised that his plan will not include monitoring privately owned networks or Internet traffic. He said it will protect personal privacy and civil liberties of Americans.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake, with reporting from Beijing by Alison Klayman. I'm Steve Ember.

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