Baidu wins respite in US censorship lawsuit

Summary:U.S. court dismisses a 2011 lawsuit against the Chinese search giant alleging it worked with its government to censor the Web.

The U.S. court has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Baidu and the Chinese government for censoring the Internet and violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Baidu logo

Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman on Tuesday said the defendants had not been properly served with court papers, and China had pointed to an international treaty which stated that doing so would infringe its sovereignty. 

The lawsuit was first filed in May 2011 by eight New York-based pro-democracy activists, including writers and video producers, who accused Baidu--China's biggest search engine--and its government for censoring search results. According to a Reuters report, the suit said Baidu acted as an "enforcer" of policies by the Chinese government, filtering pro-democracy content such as the 1989 Tiananmem Square protests. 

The plaintiffs alleged such censorship violated the First Amendment as well as human rights laws, and blocking search results which could be found through other search engines such as Google and Yahoo amounted to millions of dollars in damages. Specifically, they had sought US$16 million in damages. 

China's Foreign Ministry then said foreign courts had no jurisdiction, according to international laws, over the way the Chinese government managed the Internet which is a sovereign matter and was in accordance with global norms.

In his dismissal on Wednesday, Furman said there was "plainly no merit" that the defendants were properly served. China, he added, had invoked a Hague Convention provision which allowed the country to refuse service which would "infringe its sovereignty or secruity". 

He also noted a lack of jurisdiction on his part to determine if China had properly invoked this provision, and even if he did, this provision would also apply to private entities such as Baidu. 

Furman's dismissal has been put on hold for 30 days to provide the plaintiffs an opportunity to propose another means of serving Baidu as well as demonostrate why China should not be dismissed as a defendant. 

Baidu accounts for about 80 percent of China's search market

China is widely known for its " Great Firewall " which filters content based on what the ruling government deems objectionable. Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter cannot be accessed in China. Citizens, though, have been known to circumvent the blocks by using virtual private networking (VPN) and proxy services. 

Google in 2010 moved its search engine to Hong Kong in order to continue providing uncensored Chinese-language search services.  

 

 

 

 

Topics: Censorship, China, Government

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 15 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings. Eileen majored i... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.