RealTime IT News

Internet Heavies Mum on China's Censorship

Internet powerhouses Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco have all declined offers to testify at Wednesday's Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on China's Internet censorship policies.

Google last week raised the ire of human rights groups by agreeing to Beijing's censorship demands in exchange for the rights to launch Google.cn, the search engine giant's latest effort to reach the world's fastest growing Internet market.

Microsoft and Yahoo have also been under attack for giving in to China's demands to censor search results.

Congressional caucuses are informal interest groups of Capitol Hill lawmakers and are not a part of any standing committees. Caucus groups have no subpoena power to compel testimony.

Google spokesman Steve Langdon said in an e-mail, "We offered to participate in the caucus meeting on a different date, but the caucus wasn't able to change the date, which we understand."

Langdon added, "We have already had staff briefings with both House and Senate members of this caucus and we'll be submitting a statement for their meeting."

Microsoft spokesman Ginny Terzano said in an e-mail statement, "We informed The ... caucus that we would not be able to provide them with an expert witness this Wednesday."

Cisco spokesman John Earnhardt said the caucus's short-notice invitation and the release of the company's quarterly earnings report prevented Cisco from participating in the caucus briefing.

Yahoo also confirmed it would not be at the Wednesday hearing.

All four companies said they have already agreed to testify at a House mid-February subcommittee hearing on the same issue.

As the U.S. and China continue to build economic ties, human rights groups have grown concerned that Beijing, instead of promoting greater freedom of speech, has instead continued to heavily censor Internet communications among its people.

Internet companies that have complied with China's censorship demands have become targets for the human rights activists.

Yahoo became one of those targets last year when it gave to Beijing the e-mail address of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his criticism of the Chinese communist government.

Other Internet companies have shuttered journalists' blogs under pressure from the Chinese authorities and have self-censored their search engines and blog tools.

Beijing typically requires filtering that blocks search requests for terms such as "democracy," "Tiananmen Square," "Dalai Lama" and "human rights in China."

"We do not in any way participate in the censorship of information by governments," Cisco's Earnhardt said. "We comply with all U.S. government regulations prohibiting the sale of products to certain destinations or to users who misuse products or resell to prohibited users. Cisco has been and will continue to be, a key driver of Internet growth in China and worldwide."

Earnhardt said the router features that Beijing uses to block access to certain sites are the same technology currently being used by companies, libraries and schools worldwide to filter content.

"This URL blocking technology is inherent in routers and also functions as a security feature to block sites that may contain viruses or foster denial of service (DOS) attacks," he said.

"Similar functionality is widely available around the world from both hardware and software vendors. The functionality can be used for many purposes -- but it should be clear that it is content neutral."