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Old 02-16-2006, 07:28 AM   #1
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Web Giants On Defensive Over Chinese Holocaust Analogy

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Web Firms Are Grilled on Dealings in China

By TOM ZELLER Jr.
The New York Times


WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 — Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco Systems came under fire at a House human rights hearing on Wednesday for what a subcommittee chairman called a "sickening collaboration" with the Chinese government that was "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" there.

The giants of the internet industry were put on the defensive yesterday when US lawmakers compared their compliance to Chinese censorship laws with the use of IBM's technology in the organization of the Holocaust. Executives were at times left speechless under the relentless questioning of congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who asked each of the companies whether they felt "ashamed" and whether they would agree to discriminate against women if asked to by a repressive regime. Lantos, whose own Congressional Human Rights Caucus was snubbed by all four companies when it invited them to speak two weeks ago, had sharp words for the executives on Wednesday. "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night," Mr. Lantos said.

Among the chief issues is the alteration of some of the companies' online offerings in the Chinese market — from search engines to blogging tools — to conform with the requirements of the government there. Also of concern is the sale of Internet hardware that the Chinese government has used in surveillance of its online population, as well as the role of American companies in providing information leading to the imprisonment of Chinese citizens for online activity that in the West would be considered free speech.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) pointed out that the Internet was notoriously difficult to control, and that even the best corporate filters and firewalls sooner or later proved porous even in the United States. But Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders, which tracks online censorship in China, suggested later in the hearings that ordinary Chinese could not be expected to hack their way around electronic walls any more than ordinary Americans could. She also noted that software tools available in the West to make users anonymous online are often inaccessible in China.

In trying to determine whether the Chinese government provides Google with a list of terms that must be filtered from its search engine, or whether Google voluntarily anticipates the authorities' wishes, an exasperated James A. Leach (R-IA) asked Mr. Schrage, "How do you know what to block?" Elliot Schrage, vice president of Google, explained that among other things, they studied the filtering habits already in use by competitors and the Chinese authorities.

"So if this Congress wanted to learn how to censor, we'd go to you — the company that should symbolize the greatest freedom of information in the history of man?" Mr. Leach said. "This is a profound story that's being told."

Mr. Schrage replied, "I hope it was clear from my written testimony that I submitted, and from my oral testimony that I gave, that this was not something we did enthusiastically, or not something that we're proud of at all."

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) took up Mr. Lantos's question later and asked if Congress ought not be ashamed itself, for having granted China trade status as a most favored nation. Mr. Wexler said that it was "duplicitous" to blame the companies for doing what the government had legally sanctioned them to do, and that the firms were in a "no-win situation."

That suggestion drew an incredulous response from Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). "Most favored nation status?" he said, "Who lobbied for that? Come on. The corporations did."
In general, I find the IBM Holocaust analogy both absurd and offensive...though I have to concede that were I, say, Tibetan, or a Uyghur from Xinjiang, or perhaps Taiwanese, I might feel differently. Search for "Dalai Lama" or "Taiwanese independence" on Google's new China interface, for example, and you'll come up empty-handed. While I have deep reservations about the way Tibet under the lamas' rule has been romanticized in the West, Chinese imperialism in Tibet has had and continues to have appalling human rights consequences, and it does pain me to see us enabling that in *any* way--whether through trade policies or abetting suppression of dissent.

And the prospect of American companies providing information that could lead to the capture and imprisonment of dissidents is deeply disturbing as well. How severely China punishes cyber-dissidents is anyone's guess, but consider that based on officially released trial records and a 2004 statement from the National People's Congress, China executes anywhere from 3,500-10,000 people per year (most Sinologists believe the latter figure is probably closer). Even given China's enormous population, that is a staggeringly high figure--proportionally more than three times that of Iran, the world's second most prolific executioner, and more than forty times that of the US (fourth highest, sadly, at least where lawful executions are concerned).

Is the *theoretical* likelihood that the Internet in China will one day bloom into a tool for truly free exchange of information, as China's middle classes continue to grow, sufficient moral justification for American companies to actively collaborate in its suppression of said freedoms in the here and now? Is it possible that the triumphalist rhetoric of freedom-through-capitalism has made us all a bit too inured to the painful contradictions encountered on the way there? Or is this just another one of those problematic but necessary compromises we need to make in the interests of encouraging freedom of information?
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Old 02-16-2006, 11:06 AM   #2
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I'm not sure if I like the idea of these guys being in China and cooperating with such a repressive government. The Internet is a good way to spread ideas and information if you don't have censorship. If you do, the way they do in China, then there's an obvious limit to what you can do on the Internet. Maybe the whole equation excludes growth of anything democratic. If so it's only worth so much.
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Old 02-16-2006, 12:43 PM   #3
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Shouldn't Tom Lantos be focusing his rage at China?
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Old 02-16-2006, 01:04 PM   #4
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Actually, I'm pissed off at both China and the companies. I think Lantos is too.
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Old 02-16-2006, 03:38 PM   #5
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and how would you all feel is a large U. S. corporation was lobbying to do business with Iran?
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Old 04-19-2007, 01:51 PM   #6
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Quote:
Yahoo sued over data on Chinese dissidents

By Dawn C. Chmielewski
Los Angeles Times , April 19, 2007



A human-rights group filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Yahoo Inc. for allegedly providing information to the Chinese government that led to the persecution, torture and imprisonment of dissidents. The World Organization for Human Rights USA filed the lawsuit on behalf of Wang Xiaoning, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for advocating Democratic reform in China in articles circulated on the Internet, and his wife, Yu Ling, who watched Beijing security officials barge into their home and arrest her husband of 27 years.

The suit seeks damages for Wang, Yu and others who have been arbitrarily detained, tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment at the hands of Chinese authorities because of information Yahoo allegedly provided the government. It also seeks Yahoo's help in securing the release of these prisoners and a court order to prevent it from taking similar actions in the future. "U.S. corporations doing business in places like China, that have highly repressive practices and commit human rights violations on a systemic basis, need to ask themselves a question: Are the actions I'm taking or the information I'm providing putting people at risk?" said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA.

American technology companies including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. have drawn mounting criticism. At a congressional hearing in February, these companies acknowledged making compromises to do business in the world's second-largest Internet market, which has at least 130 million users. Google is accused of blocking access to sites that the Chinese government deems sensitive. Cisco Systems has sold China equipment that authorities use to block access to such sites. Yahoo has come under fire for signing a pledge to abide by all censorship laws. "Yahoo, as a commercial organ, has a duty to protect its customers' privacy; this is the bottom line," said Li Jian, a human rights activist based in Dalian, China. Li, whose website is often blocked by the government, added that "I am sure there are many more cases behind what has been exposed."

Sklar said his organization targeted Yahoo because of the extent of evidence against the Sunnyvale, Calif., company. The Chinese courts cited Yahoo as being instrumental in the arrest and conviction of Wang, who distributed his political journals and articles by e-mail through a Yahoo message group and later over the Internet anonymously. Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary provided local police with information linking Wang to the e-mails and other pro-democracy comments, the suit alleges. On Sept. 1, 2002, 10 security police officers raided his home, seized computers and manuscripts and detained him without informing his family of the charges. He was held in a detention facility where he repeatedly was beaten and kicked and forced to confess to engaging in "anti-state" activities, the suit alleges. On Sept. 12, 2003, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Jim Cullinan, Yahoo's director of public affairs, said the company had not seen the lawsuit. But he said American companies doing business in China were required to comply with local law — or else their employees would face civil or criminal penalties. Cullinan said the Chinese authorities did not disclose to Yahoo why they were seeking certain information or even the nature of the underlying criminal investigation. He said Yahoo had no way of knowing whether the demand for information was related to a legitimate criminal investigation or would be used to persecute a political dissident.
"Yahoo is distressed that citizens in China have been imprisoned for expressing their political views online," Cullinan said. "We call on the U.S. State Department to continue making this issue a top priority in bilateral and multilateral engagements with the Chinese government to the end result of securing the freedom of these dissidents."
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