Apple, Facebook, Twitter, HP decline to testify re: Human Rights and Law

Apple, Facebook, Twitter, HP decline to testify re: Human Rights and Law

Summary: All of the companies that refused to testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Human Rights and the Law have interests in China.


In 2008, the Global Network Initiative was created with the goal of advancing freedom and protecting privacy of individuals who use the Internet for political and commercial use. The start up of the organization was encouraged by the U.S. government and supported by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Human Rights and the Law.

Founding members included Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and prominent academia and legal scholars focused on International political and legal issues.

Throughout 2009, internet applications were used for political purposes in Iran, China, Venezuela and other countries. Authoritarian governments have had significant challenges defeating the use of  tools that help expose civil unrest and dissatisfaction among the population in those countries. Several examples:

It was a very busy year determining how Internet companies should protect themselves. The GNI's founders asked more companies to join the initiative. Among them Facebook and Twitter, both declining because of the fees associated with joining GNI and the belief that they had no interests in GNI's purpose. Its founding members have not been augmented with new members since its inception.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Human Rights and the Law held its second session, asking several organizations to testify: Google's VP & deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, Daniel J. Weitzner of the United States Department of Commerce, Omid Memarian, Iranian Journalist and blogger and Rebecca McKinnon, Co-Founder, Global Voices Online.

Asked to testify were Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Hewlett Packard and McAfee, all refused.

In a damning rebuke in his opening statement, Judiciary Chair Senator Richard J. Durbin called the companies that did not participate;

The bottom line is this: with a few notable exceptions, the technology industry seems unwilling to regulate itself and unwilling even to engage in a dialogue with Congress about the serious human rights challenges the industry faces.

In the face of this resistance, I have decided that it is time to take a more active role. At our hearing two years ago, I indicated that Congress could step in if the industry failed to take concrete action to protect internet freedom.

Today I am announcing that I will introduce legislation that would require internet companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability. I look forward to working with Senator Coburn and my other colleagues to enact this legislation into law.

All of the companies that refused to testify have interests in China. Twitter and Facebook have users in China, Iran and Venezuela.

Nicole Wong reaffirmed Google's announced position of no longer censoring content on its search engine in response to questions by the Committee. In Wong's written submission, the company continues to walk a fine line of not directly attributing the attack against Google in December.

I want to stress that while we know these attacks came from China, we are not prepared to say who is carrying out these attacks. We do know such attacks are violations of China's own laws and we would hope that the Chinese authorities will work with US officials to investigate this matter.

Because this is an ongoing investigation, I am not prepared to say anymore about these attacks. However, before moving on to the broader, global challenges we face, I would like to stress t the decision to review our business operations in China was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked with dedication and determination to make the success it is today.

Google's testimony carefully illustrates the problems of operating in China. It does not want to leave the biggest growth opportunity, nor does it want to jeopardize or put in danger its employees in China.

Google is now the second most popular search engine in China, behind Baidu, and we were the first search engine in China to let users know when the results have been removed to comply with Chinese law. Use of our map, mobile and translation services is growing quickly. And from a business perspective, while our China revenues are still small in the context of our larger business, the last quarter of 2009 was our most successful quarter ever in China.

Don't be evil

Google willingness to testify and offer suggestions on how freedom of expression and privacy need further U.S. government support illustrates how to move forward under difficult political administrations that exist around the world. Why Facebook, Twitter, HP and others refuse to have a dialogue with their government is almost baffling and could have significant repercussions with its users.

As was illustrated in hearing testimony other nations also block content from various sources such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar. Websites like YouTube, the Guardian, and Facebook are completely blocked.

Apple wants protection from companies like HTC and Nokia and help from the U.S. administration (USITC) in doing so, yet will not codify or be a part of the solutions for basic human rights like freedom of expression - solutions that may hurt their brand. It makes it appear Apple is more concerned with access to manufacturing and market access with China while protecting itself from imports from competitors that also are linked to China than principles outlined by the GNI.

You'll need to jump to 17:02 of the video before the session begins.

Other resources:

U.S. removes Internet sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan

Secretary of State Clinton's speech on Internet Freedom

EPIC's letter to Secretary of State Clinton on Internet Privacy

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Apple, Browser, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Security, China

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  • The government

    is responsible for granting most favored nation status, and setting trade
    regulations and restrictions,

    and yet the blog author focuses on the fact that a company, which can
    make no law, put no individual in jail, impose no tax, nor regulate away
    any freedom, chose not to testify before a governmental panels which
    CAN make law, put individuals in jail, impose taxes and regulate away

    The state loves it when you think a business is the biggest threat you
    face to your freedoms.
    • where is the logic in that?

      Had FB, HP, Twitter testified, lawmakers would have a better understanding of the experiences these companies have with usage of their products when used by individuals for political means.

      Ignoring the opportunity to testify is unfortunate...
      • Ah Doug, "frgough" & "Linux Geek" are completey incapable of being logical.

        They (and several others who post here) are so far to the right on the political spectrum, as to be beyond visible light.

        Don't even try to have a rational discussion with any of them.
        • I like it

          If I ignore my readers comments then I think it is doing more harm than good. All views are welcome (within reason). All I ask of everyone is to stay on topic with respects to the post in question.

          Thanks for the feedback.

    • Threats to your freedoms and rights

      Of course a business is a bigger threat to your freedoms and rights than the government.

      If the government does something that affects you negatively, you can vote the decision makers out and replace them with people who will make better decisions. If a business does something that affects you negatively, you're screwed unless you hold a significant amount of voting stock in that business.
      • Or... could just stop "doing business" with that business?

        Carl Rapson
  • HP et al.

    All of the companies listed are "for profit" operation, responsible to their shareholders, not to the government or US citizens or the human race. This is where the concept of "self-regulation" falls down every single time it is left to a company to choose between profits and doing "the right thing". HP has massive operations in China, and they are beholden to the Chinese government in many ways. How could they possibly decide to say anything to Congress that would get them in hot water or red ink??

    Assuming any lawmaker actually wants to do something about Internet freedom (which I actually doubt) then they need to subpoena information from companies to determine the nature and extent of the problem, and write regulations to enforce their solutions. No "asking" companies to be nice, no "collaboration".

    Because it doesn't work, it's against the basic charter and purpose of a for-profit company. HP is on a hell-bent campaign to squeeze out every nickel of profit. They are perfectly willing to put tens of thousands of US workers out of a job and hire cheap replacements in India and the Philipines, what makes anyone think they give a hoot about nameless political malcontents in China??
    terry flores
  • RE: Apple, Facebook, Twitter, HP decline to testify re: Human Rights and Law

    EVERYONE is responsible to the "human race"!
    • I agree ..

      but what are the solutions ?
  • Everyone makes the assumption that "freedom" works everywhere.

    When in fact, it doesn't when the populace is not ready for it or ready to defend it.

    Is it the US responsibility to fight for democracy in every corner of the world? Not that I can see it isn't.

    What is it that makes us so certain "democracy" is the only game in town? I mean China has been around a LOT longer than the US and seems to be doing well.

    Do i choose to live like that? No, but then I was raised differently and am not really in any position to judge the rest of the planet.
    • that depends...

      China wants to continue exports to the U.S. and
      elsewhere. Does that not require bilateral
      understanding of human relations?
      • Not At All...

        Everyone needs to remember that Americans have driven manufacturing, and everything but service industries, out of America, because they demand the lowest possible prices, and the most profit from the companies they own stock in.
        Greed is responsible for people ignoring anything that has no bearing on their daily lives.
        Americans are so distanced from bilateral understanding of human relations in SE Asia, that they don't give a damn, as long as they get the best they can, for the least amount of money.
        The real irony is that these same people, demand the highest wage possible, for the least amount of effort. These countering principles force companies to do business with Mexico, China, and Taiwan.
        These countering principles are also responsible for the Super Chain success in America, that is running all of the Mom & Pop operations out of business.
  • the limits of corporate courage

    are often found at the perception of the bottom line.

    Of course this makes the Apple "big brother" advertisement ironic to the nth degree.

    China's acceptence of privacy rights will go no farther than their bottom line either. At least right up to the security of the single party state. Which is to say, nowhere.
  • An age old premise

    Ever since the old age when the gave the predecessor DARPAnet over to the global community to regulate itself, there remains a general consensus that the Internet is "free" and should remain free, uninfluenced and unconstrained by any formal government at any level (no official quote there, just a summary).
    Just as no one "owns" the Internet, no government has any authority to "govern" or "regulate" the Internet on a global, world-wide scope. Even if one such entity was authorized, supported, and attempted, many believe the task would be impossible. Even some union of governments, e.g. U.N. or what-have-you, has never been granted ability or authority to interfere with the Internet's self-monitoring, and self-controlling community. If the U.S. Judiciary, or any other government wants to gain a foothold into control over the Internet, (or some sub-domain of it, e.g. .com or .gov, or .us) this present tactic seems like a very clever ploy to present to the world or Big Commerce, doesn't it?
    "Why don't you global business kings want to participate in making the world a freer and safer place for everyone in the world (under our guidance and oversight, of course)?? Shame on you."

    Some would advise caution. Some might suggest "Don't drink the Koolaid in any flavor."
    1984 could still happen in the future... is that what the global community wants?
  • There is only one solution...

    Is the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Human
    Rights and the Law smoking crack??? What do
    they hope to get out of the companies they
    asked to testify??? These companies don't
    control the internet in any country... They are
    all taking precautions against attack... That
    just doesn't make sense.

    There has always only been one solution to the
    issues and problems with various countries
    around the globe... Take away the borders... No
    separate countries... A one world government...

    It doesn't matter if we are talking human
    rights, drug trafficking, child porn, human
    slave trade, extradition, War, or the biggest
    one... Pollution.

    None of these issues will ever get solved
    unless all countries cooperated and shared the
    same laws and their law enforcement shared the
    same database... (which would never happen)...

    The internet and the olympics are the only
    worlds we know without borders... And they have
    had their fair share of abuse, corruption,
    political meddling, etc... The Internet has
    never had unified laws, rules, and regulations,
    only the individual ones set by each country...
    The olympics has had a "one world government"
    in the form of the IOC...

    The "U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Human
    Rights and the Law" has a snowballs chance in
    hell at changing and/or policing the Web...
    Sounds like they are fishing for pity sex from
    legitimate companies in the form of back doors
    and hidden keys... If I ran any of these
    companies, I would decline to testify as well.
    • i agree

      i agree we need one world, one set of laws, one government, one currency.
      currently we only have the rights that the government in our respective countries grant us, nothing more. if your government does not extend to you the right to privacy then regardless what any other country says, you have no privacy.
      think china, iran, america.
  • "1st ammendment" of sorts?

    Rignt to avoid self-incrimination? Declining to testify
    isn't quite the same as "testifying against".

    I agree with (but didn't copy/paste the name of) the
    commenter here who suggested the US can't enforce
    moral rules worldwide.

    After all, we're the same folks who're griping about
    AAPL enforcing moral rules for apps on the iPhone. No
    free lunch.

    If HP or FB or...whoever operates or is based in or gets
    their main bucks in the U.S., then the U.S. portion of
    their operations should honor U.S. laws. Overseas? Well,
    then, the U.S. government has no say.

    Yep, I know, slam me for the technical impossibility of
    realizing what I'm saying, but in an ideal world, that
    should be the way it goes.
  • RE: Apple, Facebook, Twitter, HP decline to testify re: Human Rights and Law

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