Congress Tears Into Net Companies Over Censorship

    February 1, 2006

Voice Of America reports that American congressmen took to the floor today, blasting internet companies for being partners in censorship efforts, during a briefing earlier today.

Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) in particular was quite vocal:

“These massively successful high-tech companies, which couldn’t bring themselves to send their representatives to this meeting today, should be ashamed,” said Mr Lantos. “With all their power and influence, wealth and high visibility, they neglected to commit to the kind of positive action that human rights activists in China take every day. They caved in to Beijing’s demands for the sake of profits, or whatever else they choose to call it.”

At issue was whether tech companies should be making efforts to help fight censorship and promote free speech and human rights in China, rather than just give in to the local laws. The U.S. government does what is in its power, short of actually going to war, and the tech companies could have been an ally in promoting freedom in China. Fortune (at CNN/Money) reports:

Other members of Congress, along with advocates from human rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, also delivered scathing critiques of the tech firms.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, said: “American citizens have every right to demand that companies use this technology to advance freedom rather than support oppression.”

And from CNET:

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Texas Democrat who sits on the human rights caucus, appeared briefly to appeal to the absentee firms.

“This may be a time for a principle stand, because when you make a principle stand now, today, tomorrow the world will be open to so many who are now suffering under the oppression of censorship,” she said. “So I would encourage my friends in the world of technologythat this is the time to cherish the Bill of Rights more than you’ve ever cherished it before.”

The four companies invited did not show, opting to wait for the a later hearing that they’ve been subpoenaed to attend.

Some recent developments include Google’s decision to block politically sensitive terms on its new Chinese search web site and Microsoft’s move to shut down an Internet journal that discussed politically sensitive issues. Last year, Yahoo provided Beijing with e-mail account information that led authorities to arrest a Chinese journalist and sentence him to 10 years in prison. Cisco, which makes computer routers, has been accused of providing China with the computer filtering hardware.

Microsoft and Yahoo issued a joint statement (!) saying that, in spite of censorship, they are giving Chinese users more access to information than before. Google printed their statement on their blog earlier.

Nathan Weinberg writes the popular InsideGoogle blog, offering the latest news and insights about Google and search engines.

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