By Jack B. Rochester, Managing Editor
Is it a coincidence that, within a day of the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's prescient novel, 1984, the repressive, dictatorial, Communist Chinese government issues an edict that all imported computers must have its homegrown filtering software installed?
As if Vista wasn't slow enough to begin with!
Chinese officials say that "unhealthy information" must not be exposed to its people. Under the guise of blocking pornography, this "Green Dam" will block other topics the Communist leaders don't want, "...Web sites that discuss the Dalai Lama, the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, and the Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement," The New York Times reported.
Jon Zittrain, professor of law at Harvard Law School and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says Green Dam can scan all your personal data, working both directions, so to speak: an insidious Big Brother, just like in Orwell's 1984. You can hear Jon's views here in an NPR interview.
This is a big deal, and scary like North Korea's sentencing the two women journalists to 12 years at hard labor. Make no mistake, even as addle-headed as the Chinese leadership is [and they don't hold a candle to Kim of The North Korea], and even as worried as they are about saving "face" in the view of the world, these are political animals bent on larger issues. [Interesting, how to the Chinese Communist government leaders, saving face about Tianaman Square and social criticism on the Internet consists of sticking their collective head in the sand.]
Not only are these leaders obsessed with saving face, but they are utterly humorless. Consider the story of "the grass-mud horse...an example of something that, in China’s authoritarian system, passes as subversive behavior. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous, although it has surely done that."
I've spent time touring China and have seen its policies at work on its sweet, interesting people. It's very sad.
And it's scary because the Chinese hold most of the paper on the U.S. That means they can pretty much dictate trade and finance terms, and even if a particular company - say Dell - decides it doesn't want to play ball, you can bet that our government will "encourage" Dell to do so.
There's no negotiating with these new Chinese regulations. No computer vendor doing business with China was consulted. It was a fiat, plain and simple. Do we really want to continue to roll onto our backs and let this government tell us how to build our products and do business with them?
Yet I think that's exactly what will happen. The Chinese leaders have probably thought through all the implications, ramifications and ratiocinations of their act. We're caught flat-footed, belly in the air, and no position to fall back upon. Regulate. Comply.
That's too bad.
Jack B. Rochester is a professional writer and editor who has worked in nearly every aspect of publishing since 1974. He heads Joshua Tree Interactive, and is Managing Editor of The Business Insider blog.