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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Oops! Red faces for China's filtering project

3 July 2009

China has long been a hotbed of intellectual property infringement.

If it's not knock-off copies of designer goods, it's blatant copies of all manner of products that have been designed and tested at great cost by foreign manufacturers.

Of course the Chinese government has always said that it works hard to crush such piracy and IP infringements -- occasionally conducting raids and prosecuting offenders as "proof" of its hard-line.

It's no secret however, that despite the government's claims, a blind eye is generally turned to any venture that contributes to China's wealth (and thus the wealth of officials in government).

And now it would appear that we have ultimate proof of the Chinese government's complicity in the world of piracy and IP infringement.

The newswires have been full of stories about the move to fit all PCs used on the Chinese mainland with a piece of censorware called "Green Dam".

Although presented as a tool to stop chinese people from accessing unsavoury online content such as pornography and violence, it comes as no surprise that it also gives the government power to censor any sites for any reason, including political ones.

So you'd think that the government would have commissioned some of China's brightest young programmers to construct a solid piece of software that would resist all attempts at circumvention by users -- right?

Well this is where the wheels fall off the trolley on which the Chinese Government sits.

A US company, Solid Oak Software now alleges that China has pirated its filtering software and, with a few tweaks, plan to use it as the basis for the Green Dam censorware.

Solid Oak's flagship product is one called CyberSitter and they claim that not only does Green Dam use the "look and feel" of CyberSitter, but it also uses DLLs that (believe it or not) have the same names as those in the CyberSitter product.

The final part of their case against the Chinese Government is that Green Dam even makes calls to CyberSitter's servers for updates. Proof positive?

This must be extremely embarrassing for the Chinese Government and I suspect there may be a few spare organs and corneas going begging when the people responsible for this are identified and "dealt with".

But, even if/when the Chinese do create a non-infringing version of Green Dam, will it actually work?

No, of course it won't.

There are many very, very clever people amongst the ranks of the Chinese hacking community and it's only a matter of (a very short) time before any such software is rendered useless.

For the Chinese government to even attempt such a stupid move is clear indication of the fact that (like so many governments) they are still living in the past and lack a true appreciation for the power of modern computer/software systems and the ingenuity of the people who use them.

Even the dumb-arsed Australian government weren't stupid enough to try and fit filtering software to every citizen's PC -- but their attempts at filtering are equally as doomed to failure.

Does anyone remember MP Trevor Rogers and his lame plans to filter the internet in NZ?

Fortunately the government of the day was smart enough to kick that idea into touch and Trevor went on to apply his "good ideas" (NOT) to projects like this.

So, today's questions are:

Is enforced internet filtering nothing more than an indicator of a government's ignorance of the technology?

Are there better ways to control access to undesirable content?

Should there be any censorship or filtering on the Net - or ought we focus instead on fostering a community where this material is shunned rather than sought-after?

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