- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Four American technology titans blinded by the massive profits they can make in China are helping the Chinese government suppress its citizens’ freedoms to knowledge and expression on the Internet, lawmakers said yesterday.

Members of Congress criticized officials from Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. about their work and policies in China where 110 million people use the Internet.

Incidents that particularly angered lawmakers were two cases in which Yahoo provided information to police that resulted in the imprisonment of political dissidents and that all three search engine companies agreed to censor queries to eliminate words like “democracy.”

“These companies need to do more than show virtual backbone; what Congress is looking for is real spine,” California Rep. Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said during a subcommittee hearing. “These companies say they will change China when China has already changed them.”

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the International Relations Africa, global human rights and international operations subcommittee, said the Internet has become “a cyber sledgehammer of repression of the government of China.”

The company officials said they do not endorse Chinese policies, but adhering to them is the only way to do business in the country. If they refused, a competitor would step in and comply.

“In an imperfect world, we had to make an imperfect choice,” said Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications and corporate affairs at Google. The Mountain View, Calif., company believed the potential benefits to Chinese citizens, and to Google, outweighed the detriments.

“Foreign companies will have to observe Chinese laws and regulations if they want to do business in China,” Chu Maoming, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said yesterday.

China, like many nations, faces the problem of how to deal with “harmful and illegal online contents,” and has adopted corresponding policies and regulations to “protect the interest of the general public,” Mr. Maoming said in e-mail from his Yahoo account.

Rep. Jim Leach, Iowa Republican, asked how Google decided which sites to block on the Google.cn site it started last month in China.

Mr. Schrage said the company followed the examples of other search engines in China and performed searches on its own to determine proper content without the government asking.

“That makes you a functionary of the Chinese government,” Mr. Leach said. “If this Congress wanted to know how to censor, we go to you.”

The companies urged the U.S. government to take up the privacy and censorship issues directly with their Chinese counterparts, saying the four massive U.S. businesses do not have leverage to enforce policy changes on their own.

Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s senior vice president and general counsel, said the Sunnyvale, Calif., company partnered with Alibaba.com, a Chinese company, in October and no longer has operational control of Yahoo China.

Mr. Smith, who this week plans to introduce legislation that would outline Internet freedom rules for U.S. companies operating abroad, asked whether Yahoo could devulge how many personal records have been shared with the Chinese government.

But the records are protected by Chinese law, and Mr. Callahan said he did not know how the government was tracking the movements of individual users.

The State Department on Tuesday established a task force to help Internet companies deal with foreign governments. Lawmakers and the companies lauded the move yesterday.

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