Interactive Case Study: The Green Dam Cyber-Censor Case
International Dimensions of Ethics Education Case Study Series
In mid-2009 the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China publicly released a directive stating that beginning July 1, 2009 all computers sold in China would be required to include Green Dam Youth Escort software, an internet filtering program that, according to the government, is intended to prevent children from viewing violent and pornographic web sites. There was immediate international concern that the software could be used by the government to monitor and restrict all citizen internet use, including politically-sensitive material, and there is even suspicion that the software can be used to intrude on individuals' privacy and autonomy in other ways. The Chinese government postponed the deadline, and the outcomes of the case are still unknown (as of Fall 2009). Computer software and hardware companies and western governmental regulatory bodies are positioning themselves in different ways, as they balance their desire to uphold western ethical values of privacy and freedom, their aversion to a public relations backlash, and the significant current and future market share that China represents. In the “discussion topics” section of this case, we ask students to imagine themselves as software engineers who are working on small modules of a larger product. We then ask them to imagine their potential courses of action upon realizing that the codes they are working on could be misused for unlawful or unethical ends (especially if their supervisors instructed them to continue the work without thinking of the bigger picture).