U-turn for the Great Firewall of China

In response to a wave of criticism, the Chinese government announced that it will relax censorship filters in its nationwide firewall, allowing journalists and Olympic guests access to a number of sites previously blocked.

“The Chinese government and the Chinese people have been working in real earnest to honor the commitments made to the international community,” said President Hu Jintao.

The announcement follows a series of “overnight talks” with the International Olympic Committee, which previously said that it was “embarrassed” last week when it announced it was unable to honor its promise of a free, open internet to Olympic guests and reporters.

The decision to offer an open internet does not appear to have any effect on the reported mandate issued against foreign-owned hotels last week, which requires them to install traffic monitoring software to spy on guests’ internet usage.

While a number of politically sensitive websites are still blocked in China, the websites that have been unblocked – including Amensty International, Human Rights Watch, and the BBC’s Chinese language service, according to The Guardian – appear to be available throughout most of the country.  This, combined with remarks from Chinese bloggers and network engineers, suggests that the country is either ill-equipped to alter its filters for a specific client list, or that it is simply preferable to do so for the entire country.

Tests by The Guardian indicates that a number of topics remain blocked in China, including many pages pertaining to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the Falun Gong movement, Tibet, or Chinese dissidents.

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