Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"A Sickening Collaboration"

Finally Congress is standing against the the American internet corporations that have altered their products to assuage the Chinese government and helped it fingercuff its citizens' web freedom.
In a crowded House hearing room, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, unleashed a scathing condemnation of four American Internet and technology companies — Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco — for a "sickening collaboration" with the Chinese government and for "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" there.
If you think this is just another vain attempt by government to hamstring corporations on vague ethical concepts and norms, then consider this:
Yahoo, which has been providing Web services in China since 1999, has been criticized for filtering the results of its China-based search engine. But its bigger problems began last fall when human rights advocates revealed that in 2004, a Chinese division of the company had turned over to Chinese authorities information on a journalist, Shi Tao, using an anonymous Yahoo e-mail account. Mr. Shi, who had sent a government missive on Tiananmen Square anniversary rites to foreign colleagues, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders, a group based in Paris, revealed that a Chinese division of Yahoo had provided information to authorities that contributed to the conviction in 2003 of Li Zhi, a former civil servant who had criticized local officials online. Mr. Li is serving eight years in prison.
Also there have been:
A series of episodes showing that the companies were bending to the restrictive demands of Beijing — filtering words like "democracy" or "human rights" from Chinese versions of a blog product, or censoring certain concepts from their China-based search engines — has leaked out from users inside China.
In response:
Christopher H. Smith, plans to introduce legislation by week's end that would restrict an Internet company's ability to censor or filter basic political or religious terms — even if that puts the company at odds with local laws in the countries where it now operates.

Although some advocates have argued that the companies may actually be violating existing trade laws, most experts concede that does not appear to be the case.

Mr. Smith's legislation, called the Global Online Freedom Act, would render much of what the Internet companies are currently doing in China illegal.

Among the act's provisions is the establishment of an Office of Global Internet Freedom, which would establish standards for Internet companies operating abroad. In addition to prohibiting companies from filtering out certain political or religious terms, it would require them to disclose to users any sort of filtering they undertake.
It's not often that we give kudos to a Republican, but today is the day.