- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2018

Google’s potential return to China has prompted a bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen to seek further details from the company’s chief executive.

The 16 lawmakers led by Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, wrote Google boss Sundar Pichai seeking clarification on the heels of recent news reports involving the company’s future in China, echoing concerns raised by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate several weeks earlier.

“We write to share our serious concerns about reports that Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with an app-based search engine that will comply with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and restrictions on free speech,” the House members wrote Thursday.

“As policymakers, we have a responsibility to ensure that American companies are not perpetuating human rights abuses abroad, and to ensure that our regulatory and statutory systems are able to deal with changing business environments,” the members wrote.

Google declined to discuss the letter when reached for comment.

“We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools,” Google said previously. “But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

Google stopped doing business in China in 2010 in lieu of complying with the government’s stringent censorship and surveillance laws, but The Intercept first reported last month that the company has considered reversing course, spurring a bipartisan group of six senators to raise similar questions in a letter of their own.

“If true, this reported plan is deeply troubling and risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime,” the senators wrote last month.

The Intercept reported Friday that Google built a prototype for a censored search engine that would have allowed the Chinese government to more easily monitor users’ queries by linking their searches with their phone numbers, citing sources familiar with the project, code-named “Dragonfly.”

The later letter sent to Mr. Pichai by lawmakers requests information on any efforts by Google to develop a search engine or other product for the Chinese government, as well as whether the company would comply with the nation’s strict censorship and surveillance laws and to what degree.

“Is Google taking steps to ensure that individual Chinese citizens, or foreigners living in China, including Americans, will not be survielled or targeted through Google applications or products?” the House members asked.

In addition to Mr. Cicilline, Thursday’s letter was signed by Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as three other House Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Separate from criticism on Capitol Hill, Mr. Pichai has come under fire from his own staffers in light of Google’s potential return to China. More than 1,000 Google employees ultimately signed a letter last month opposing the company doing business in China, and Jack Poulson, a research scientist for Google, left this week in protest.

“It is my understanding that when you have a serious ethical disagreement with an issue, your proper course of action is to resign,” he said Thursday.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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