U.S. Companies Urge Action Against Internet Censorship
American technology giants urged the U.S. government Tuesday to do more to
confront China and other countries about Internet censorship.
Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. also defended themselves against
accusations that they have helped governments such as China's crush dissent
in return for access to booming Internet markets.
Andrew McLaughlin, senior counsel for Google, told a State Department-sponsored
conference on Internet freedom that his company is trying to use its "presence
in countries that are restrictive to provide communication" options, such
as e-mail and blogs, for people who may not have other ways to talk to each
McLaughlin urged the U.S. government to fight for technology and information
companies' rights in the international trade arena.
"What we need is for censorship to be treated as a trade barrier and be
put right up at the top of our agenda when it comes to bilateral" free
trade agreements, McLaughlin said.
Michael Samway, deputy general counsel at Yahoo, also appealed for more action
from Washington. "The State Department has the tools to engage foreign
governments on openness," he said. "We do have significant leverage
as companies, but the government has the most significant amount of leverage,
and we do need the government to be in play."
Barry Lowenkron, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, said
in an opening statement that the United States "will not stand by in the
face of unwarranted restrictions of Internet use by oppressive regimes."
At a House of Representatives hearing last year, the three tech companies and
Cisco Systems Inc., which did not appear at Tuesday's meeting, received blistering
criticism for their work in China from lawmakers who said the companies had
abandoned social responsibility in a deal for greater wealth.
With 137 million people online, China is on track to surpass the United States
in the next two years as the nation with the most Internet users, Chinese officials
China fiercely polices Internet content. Filters block objectionable foreign
Web sites; regulations ban what the Chinese consider subversive and pornographic
content and require service providers to enforce censorship.
China says its aims are to protect its citizens from "the immoral and
harmful content" of the Internet.