A Chinese government directive requiring all new personal computers to carry Internet filtering software has caused a widespread public outcry, with critics saying the plan is intrusive and ineffective.

The government is promoting the “Green Dam-Youth Escort” filtering software as a way of shielding children from “harmful” content such as pornography, but many netizens fear it will be used to stop online debate on sensitive issues.

Under the plan, the software will be shipped with every new PC and users will be required to install it. On the face of it, the “Green Dam-Youth Escort” software looks like an addition to the already extensive armory of filtering systems that make up the Great Firewall of China, used to block sensitive material on issues such as Tibetan independence and the banned Falun Gong movement.

Li Fangping, a Beijing human rights lawyer who often represents controversial causes, questioned the “lawfulness and reasonableness” of the demand.

“This administrative action lacks a legal basis. Designating that the same software must be installed on all computers affects citizens’ rights to choose,” Li wrote in a submission to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

There have even been complaints in the state media, with the China Youth Daily running an op-ed questioning the government’s right to force its way into the private life of the populace. The People’s Daily has also been critical of the plan.

A group of NGOs representing China’s homosexual community issued a joint statement calling on the government not to introduce the program, which would automatically block web pages that contain certain homosexual content and make it impossible to access some well-established websites.

“We strongly protest the administrative directive which vilifies, discriminates against and clamps down on homosexual communities. And we are calling on the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to lift such restrictions,” the five gay advocacy groups said.

A spokesman for the ministry was quoted in the state media saying users will have a choice whether to install the software and that it won’t be used to collect user data.

There have been some humorous reactions. One webizen wrote: “Ministry of Health Notice: All new computers are required to wear condoms.”

Another web commentator wrote: “If this is child protection software, then it should just be installed on children’s computers.” Other webizens are also angry the program costs so much to develop.

There were 40 million PCs sold in China last year and the country’s online population is around 300 million.