February 15, 2006 11:10 AM PST

Politicians lash out at tech firms over China

Politicians lashed out at U.S. Internet companies on Wednesday, accusing them of collaborating with China's "regime of repression" and pledging to enact a law soon to make such cooperation illegal.

During a House of Representatives hearing, members of Congress offered repeated condemnations of Google, Yahoo, Cisco Systems and Microsoft that were the most antagonistic so far in an ongoing dispute about how U.S.-based companies can offer services in China while protecting the free speech and privacy of Chinese users.

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Video: Lantos blasts tech giants
During a House of Representatives hearing, congressman calls Yahoo, Google, Cisco and Microsoft "agents of repression."

"This value-free excuse truly sickens me," said Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, who accused the four corporations of a "nauseating collaboration with a regime of repression."

"What Congress is looking for is real spine and willingness to stand up to the outrageous demands of a totalitarian regime," added Lantos, the co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Chinese dissidents are "in the Chinese gulag because Yahoo chose to reveal their identities to the Chinese government."

Over the last few months, public scrutiny of China's state-mandated censorship has grown thanks to developments such as Microsoft deleting a journalist's blog, Yahoo turning over information about a Chinese journalist, and Google offering a censored Chinese search service.

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Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said legislation is being drafted to prevent U.S.-based employees of any company "from turning over confidential information to a repressive government...unless our government certifies that that information is being requested for a legitimate criminal investigation for a nonpolitical crime."

Representatives of technology companies were not given an opportunity to respond to the criticism until nearly three hours had elapsed since the hearing began, at 7 a.m. PT. The discussion among politicians had also veered repeatedly toward topics such as communism and President Bush's domestic surveillance plan using the National Security Agency.


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Microsoft lobbyist Jack Krumholtz said his employer is willing to withdraw services when they "completely compromise the value to customers" in that region.

But, said Krumholtz, who is Microsoft's director of federal government affairs, even China's censorship efforts leave valuable information available to its Internet users. So, he said, "based on grounds of human rights and freedom of expression alone, Microsoft believes that we should continue to provide our Internet-enabled services in China."

Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, the Republican chairman of the human-rights subcommittee, likened cooperating with China's ruling Communist Party to aiding Adolf Hitler and Germany's Nazi party during the Second World War.

During the Holocaust, Smith said, Jews were "marched off to incredible precision and the trains did run on time to the gas chambers," thanks to punched-card technology originating in the United States. Smith said that such a precedent should encourage Yahoo to "move out and disengage" from China.

Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan acknowledged that the Shi Tao case, in which Yahoo China turned over information that led to the journalist being sent to prison for 10 years, raised "profound and troubling questions."

Callahan said, however, that Yahoo was "unaware of the particular facts" about the case, such as Shi's identity and occupation, until news reports surfaced. Also, the company is an investor in and does not have day-to-day control of Yahoo China, which is run by Alibaba.com, he said.

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Video: Microsoft and blog-censorship
Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft's associate general counsel, talks about blog censorship on MSN.

"When we receive a demand from law enforcement authorized under the law of the country in which we operate, we must comply," Callahan said. "This is a real example of why this issue is bigger than any one company and any one industry. All companies must respond in the same way."

Yahoo and the other companies who testified said they're working together on an industry-wide approach to demands by the Chinese government. Google Vice President Elliot Schrage said that the search giant is exploring "guidelines that would apply for all countries in which Internet content is subjected to governmental restrictions."

Those could, Schrage said, include public disclosure of the type of censorship requests received and best practices for protecting customer data--perhaps by storing it on servers in the U.S. instead of locally. (Google has chosen not to offer versions of Gmail or Blogger on servers physically located in China.)

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based free-speech group that sent a representative to testify, has called for legislation instead of voluntary codes of conduct. It says that search engines must not "be allowed to incorporate automatic filters" deleting words such as "democracy" or "human rights" and that technology companies must not be allowed to sell equipment designed to monitor Internet users without U.S. government permission.

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34 comments

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so when is it Walmart's turn??
Or Phillips, RCA, Nike, GE.......
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you are right on bob
so the govt. gets to pick and choose who is good and who is bad with regards to China?
As long as their walmart stock keeps rising, they don't really care about human rights and all the associated PR.
Posted by vikprashar (2 comments )
Link Flag
Dead on
We're giving everything away to other countries so a few people in our country can die rich.

Look at oil profits, manufacturing, tech.. the list goes on and on.

Until and unless we remove our dirty 'leaders' from office, we'll continue to get screwed over.
Posted by Leppard (41 comments )
Link Flag
You go, Bob!
I've been screaming about China and WalMart 'til blood shout out of my lungs.....but nobody is listening.

We are financing the biggest threat to democracy in the world.....Communist China.

And, while we pour BILLIONS ($30+ BILLION from Wal-Mart alone in a single year!) into the globe's biggest Communist-run state, they are busy building thier armed forces. We are financing thier arms buildup.

They have even stated publicly that they would nuke us if we got involved in their dispute with Tiawan (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/07/14/china.taiwan.nuclear.reut/" target="_newWindow">http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/07/14/china.taiwan.nuclear.reut/</a>).

What the hell are we doing? Didn't we learn anything from Reagan's economic isolation of Communist Russia?

We are complete idiots to allow this financiang of a Communist state to continue.
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Link Flag
oh, now you have a problem with china?
It's funny to see politicians standing up to the chinese government- NOW. They are lashing out at successful business enterprises like Google, Cisco, Microsoft and Yahoo. For years, the government has had chances to improve relations with china, perhaps make things better there, but no, we were happy getting out goods cheap, happy getting lower prices at Walmart, Target, and every other retailer that has "made in China" as part of their merchandise. but NOW we have a problem with china? Why now, why not earlier?
Sounds like a lot of grandstanding, sounds like someone attacking business that offer customized solutions. What they should really do is put some strict sanctions on China, but of course they won't, they will attack successful businesses.
I'm personally disappointed to see a Democrat doing the "lashing".
Posted by vikprashar (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe because they are using too much oil etc?
Maybe that is because China now is starting to compete for resources that the USA wants (oil for example). One could say if you take away a countries access to knowledge you take away their ability to grow.

If all of these internet service companies should break Chinese local law they would either be breaking the law, or cease to operate (as a lot of these politicians seem to think they should do). Should this be the case in the USA as well? When the government makes demands for users information should these companies protects peoples "freedom" at all costs with no regard to the health of their company? Maybe Google and Microsoft should send in their armies and overthrow all of these censoring governments! (USA how about with holding those Abu Ghraib pictures? Censorship is censorship no matter what the reason)
Posted by stevejobless (40 comments )
Link Flag
2 face politicians
these govt guys got alot of balls saying things like this to Google, MS, Cisco esp. when the US govt is trying to take private data from google searches, doing wiretaps without any form of evidence, and putting news reporters in jail if they dont tell u a person's name that is protected under the bill of rights (Yahoo turning over information about a Chinese journalist). As far as i can see, these politicians are just being ***** in saying these things about china and these tech companies when they do it themselves in this free land
Posted by Thinkforachange (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy. US leaders have been coddling China for years and now they are attacking US companies for doing exactly the same thing as they have been doing for 20 years? What about Taiwan and the "One China Policy"? What about Chinease arms sales? What about Tianamen Square? What about China's influence on North Korea? Where were our brave politicians then? Two face politicians for sure. Get over yourselves and stop attacking private companies.

MS, Google, Yahoo need obey the rules in China if they are going to get market access. It's that simple. It is not their responsibility to change China. This is the responsibility of the US government and the two faced politicians.
Posted by hkhodave (2 comments )
Link Flag
JANUS
Ahh, we have now elected true hypocrits, all wearing the mask of 'JANUS'

My only question is when will they declare themselves to be gods, above the laws of the land, to lead us not into temptation or the garden of eden, but to a hell of their choice!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Two sides to every sword.
Although the US government has become more and more oppressive themselves these days, does that make what US companies are doing right? Hypocrisy makes nothing right people. I wonder how many of the people who responded to this story would have said something positive about an American company giving Soviet Russia information on foreign dissadents back in the 70's or 80's? In my opinion the Chineese regime is as oppressive and fasciest as the old Soviet government and no American companies should be doing business with them. But hey, as long as you have freedom of speech, it doesn't make a crap of a difference if anyone else does, right? I mean, you don't live there, so who cares.
Posted by Albion01 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
are you willing
To die for their right to free speach? Heck are you even willing to give up cheep consumer goods for their right to free speach?
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
Screw That
Economic reasons or otherwise doesn't matter. You are still supporting us. Do you have some dillusion that us Americans are supporting everything our government is doing right now? Do you really, honestly think that we have control over it? Don't even get me started on your whole brand of 1984 bulls*t that you have rampaging your country right now.
Posted by duerra (76 comments )
Reply Link Flag
shhhh!!
It's easier to operate under the assumption that people are all the same based on nationality/religion/skin color otherwise you might have to think about the issues.
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
Get to the point, "netdev"...
If you want to continue discussing this rationally, you should read the BBC Editorial on the Google.cn controversy. Journalist Bill Thompson makes a great point concerning the grey areas in this moral issue. There is censorship everywhere, it's just a matter of how aware you are of it. Maybe Google, by offering a unmistakably censored engine, will awaken the chinese to the fact that their government is HIDING so much from them.

Thompson writes:

"If you use BT's net service and type in the web address of a site believed to contain images of child abuse you'll get a "site not found" error with no indication at all that the site has been censored by the Cleanfeed service - and of course, you have no opportunity to question the censorship or have a site removed from the list because you aren't ever told it is on a list.

At least if I search for "democracy" on google.cn I'll be told that the results have been restricted by local law."

Maybe, just maybe, this decision was the the best track Google could take to get around this law, instead of outright defying it...
Posted by H A R L O (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Politicians lash out at tech firms over China
Incredible. For some reason the liberal politicos haven't figured out the US Congress does not rule the world. Hell, they can't even rule DC so why are they so upset over China. They want to pass a law requiring US Companies with foreign subsidiaries break the laws of the nation they are in. Well, Russia did that during the cold war and we still jailed their spies.

Also, the comment about slave labor; what does that have to do with this? We also have slave labor - it's called minimum wage (and minimum wage here is different than minimum wage in any other country so don't do the apples and oranges thing).

If the companies want to do business in China then they have to follow China's laws. If foreign companies do business here, they follow our laws. Otherwise, stay out of trying to run other countries until they learn how to run our own.
Posted by GEBERWEIN (75 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We fought a cold war with communist Russia
for 40 years. What's different about China?
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Link Flag
No money for policatians so they lash out
They are just being mad and here some reason why:
1. they don't own any stocks with those companies so ok to lash out on them and maybe the stock price will drop and they can buy stock at cheap price and then just promoting them again in order to increase the stock price
2. the companies didn't contribute to their campaign or they ask for contribute but the companies refuse to give them
3. they didn't receive any gifts from them.

You hardly see politicians lash out on companies that they have some good relationship with.
Posted by rastudio (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Profit before people?
I wonder if these companies would react in the same fasion if
they were trying to establish business in Nazi Germany back in
the 30's? We have to ask at what point do these companies draw
the line? I find the stance taken by these tech companies and
Yahoo inparticular very troubling. If ever there was another state
such as Nazi Germany where would a company like Yahoo stand?
How safe are we from companies that obviously do not identify
with the ethical &#38; moral standards of free humanity. But even
more importantly have they violated human rights or
Internatiopnal law. If Yahoo is so concerned with law why don't
they identify with International Law?

I wonder, is this the first sign of our evolution into a global
community that puts profit before people?
Posted by leafroller.blogspot.com (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
First sign??
Are you familure with the insurence industry at all?
Or the calculations companies put on the value of the lives lost (in terms of US dollars) before they recall anything.
When you look at issues from the top you and I are only worth so much.

Ke sera sera
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
Who are they trying to fool...
most companies in US are dying to do business; some are even in joint ventures; so why was this not a problem for GM, Chrysler, and other companies. Goods &#38; services are produced for 1/10 of US costs and US buyers have nothing lefe to spend afer gas, insurance, telcom fees and so forth.

And remember we have to support the many politicians &#38; share holders of these great companies as they stand to loose mucho dollars.

So stop being hypocritcal...another wasted inquiry! China has taken over as the supplier of goods for the WORLD. Why were you not forcing them to be more open and democratic? They were blowing smoke while quietly becoming a giant right under your noses...and there is nothing you can do now.

WHAT YOU SHOULD BE FOCUSED ON IS THE "TOTAL FAILURE" of the KATRINA victims both people &#38; states. Imagine; your own people; this I would expect from some poor thrid world country.

SHAME on you all as US POLITICANS!!!!Free speech and democracy my foot...why now you can go to jail for being anti-war or if you just plain disagree with anything the goverment does.

I suggest you concentrate on fixing your stuff interally and regain the status you once had...but this time...listen to others. Your way is not always the right way.
Posted by oceanview_1 (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's time...
For some Americans to start up a new search company less focused on profits that refuses to censor its pages at the behest of foriegn governments, that also refuses to share people's private search histories with the governement.

Shame on Google and Yahoo for bending so quickly to governments' demands in the name of saving their almighty profits. I'm so sick of watching Americans sell out themselves and their countrymen just to get their hands on another greasy buck.

But it's pretty easy to see where they got the example... look no further than the White House.
Posted by Bizplanman (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh, pulleeeeeeeeeeeeeeze!
Pardon me while fall out my chair laughing hysterically!

This so called outrage and concern emanating from Washington is coming from the same bunch that allowed the Loral-Aerospace to sell the Chinese our satellite technology and at the same time allowed the transfer of our nuclear weapons secrets during the 1990's (without my fanfare from the media, I might add. Where were they?). Oh by the way, don't forget the attempted sale of the Todd Naval Shipyard in Long Beach, CA that got hushed up quickly. Haven't been able to find out whether the actual sale took place. And now these same members of Congress are signing on to a consortium, of which Osama Bin-Ladin's family is a partner, to manage the security of 8 of our largest and busiest seaports? One of these is in Mississippi, where they build and repair, you guessed it, U.S. Navy ships. Can you say, "USS Cole"? I guess that would make sense, since a Chinese company owns and operates the Panama Canal.

And these "leaders" are raising the roof over human rights issues in China, because Internet service providers are applying good old fashioned Capitalism?

How sad.........
Posted by green_robert (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
US Multinationals no longer American
American multinationals no longer care about their communities, their workers or the broader national interest. They are run by spoiled execs who recieve obscene pay packages from fawning, captive Boards of Directors. Their obsession is to pump up their short term revenue at all costs so they can personally enrich themselves by cashing out their tranches to buy their next big trophy property in Nantucket or Vail. Its interesting that Asst SecState Bob Zoellich recently called upon the Chinese to be "responsible stakeholders" in the world economy. Maybe he should have called upon US execs to be "responsible stakeholders" and actually consider the benefits they derive for their companies and in their personal lives from operating in a free and democratic environment with democratic principals. Instead, they seem to be focussed upon hollowing out our middle class by shipping our jobs offshore , while kow-towing to the repressive demands of the Chinese gvt., all in the pursuit of a higher quarterly strike price.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who is a threat to my freedom?
The politicians who take my money, limit my freedom, restrict my
technological options are American. The Chinese people are
gradually increasing their liberty, while we Americans are swiftly
losing ours.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let's reverse the roles
Let's host Yahoo and Google servers in China and see what happens....

What would our gov do to get our information from Chinese servers? Maybe that's the ticket: the servers in one country serve another country. Performance might suffer some, but this way, you are ALWAYS out of the juridiction....

Something to ponder as a solution against censorship and questionable gov oversight.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Might Remind You All
Remember, Yahoos disclosure of the Chinese dissident's email resulted in a ten year sentence for that dissident. He dared to criticize his government.

Those of you who continue to whine about losing your rights, exactly what rights have you lost? I remind you that hate crime speech laws that were passed, have resulted in a greater loss of your freedom of speech. Let me give you an example.

In 1993 in Tacoma, Washington, a new community rose up against a drug halfway house that was being built in their community. These middle class people moved to this neighborhood to avoid drug users and other social deviants in other parts of their city. Clinton's Secretary of HEW, Henry Cisneros, asked that a team from the Justice Department go to Tacoma to stop the homeowner's protest.

The Justice team was led by a female prosecutor who arrested over a hundred homeowners and their families under the new federal hate speech laws. She said the Justice Department and HEW would press prosecution and cause them all to lose their homes and all their possessions unless they signed agreements agreeing to desist. All were not wealthy and they caved.

I think there is karma in the universe now that Cisneros is still under investigation for lying to the FBI. That's the same thing that idiot Scooter Libby did. That'll get you five to ten for obstruction of justice regardless of the original crime charges.

Now for all the talk of the Patriot Act and the President's signal interceptions of foriegn calls to and from Americans, none of that was as egregious as the Clinton's Administration actions in Tacoma in abrogating our freedom of speech.

Another example was Judge Fine down in south Florida who ruled against abortion protestors using the RICO racketeering laws. Bush I passed those laws to take down the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates. Judge Fine misapplied the law to stifle free speech. Another egregious example by liberals who don't care about your freedom of speech.

Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft should be criticized and pressured into dropping their accomodation with the communist government of China. All of you should alos be cricizing the hate speech laws and misapplication of racketeering and other laws that do more to abrogate our freedoms than anything else recently done by our government.
Posted by Terry Gay (127 comments )
Reply Link Flag
tech firms in china
DEAR SIR FOR GOD,S SAKE DO NOT TAKE AWAY THE LAST BIT OF INFORMATION FROM THE CHINES PEOPLE,
THIS IS JUST WAT THE CHINES GOVERMENT WANT, TO STOP ANY INFORMATION GETING INTO CHINA,FROM THE FREE WORLD,
Posted by bannerman (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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