Google will face Congressional hearings over China

Google will face Congressional hearings over China

Summary: Now they've gone and done it. Representative Chris Smith (R - N.J.) is contemplating calling hearings on Google's self-censorship of its Chinese search service.

TOPICS: Google

So much for the good feeling engendered by the company's refusal to give search data to the U.S. Department of Justice. Google's headed for a Congressional showdown because it chose to censor its new China portal.

Rep. Chris Smith (R - N.J.), chairman of the International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee will convene hearings on the activities of U.S. Internet companies in China on February 13. This is the kind of bridge issue that could bring members of both parties together to criticize Google and its competitors.Smith said in a press release announcing he intends to call representatives of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, among others, said "Many Chinese have suffered imprisonment and torture in the service of truth – and now Google is collaborating with their persecutors.”

Smith comes from the right wing of the Republican party, having first won office with Ronald Reagan in 1980. He has worked since then to curb abortion and spread religious and democratic freedoms. He's also taken on Republican leaders, including disgraced former Whip Tom DeLay, when they disagreed with him. According to the 2006 Almanac of American Politics, Smith has the voted against the Republican party line more often than only seven other members of his party (albeit, he votes with the party 81 percent of the time).

But he does stand on his principles, voting againt both abortion and, unlike many conservatives, the death penalty as a consistent expression of his pro-life opinions. So this is a guy who knows a solid symbolic campaign when he sees one. Having fought to protect free expression and practice by Christians in China, it's clear he sees the Google self-censorship case is a solid foundation for making a point that American companies should not sell out human rights for a profit.

“Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft attract some of the best and brightest minds to develop cutting edge technology that can be used for good throughout the world,” Smith said in his press release. “Americans need to empower those who seek the path of democracy, not stifle their ability to speak.”

I agree with Smith, even when companies have to sacrifice profits to pursue the principles that let them thrive here at home when they expand overseas. Money earned reinforcing tyranny is blood money, which investors should spurn, even if Sergey Brin says that, while it was a hard decision, censorship in China is the right one.

Smith isn't necessarily the most popular Republican, but this is the kind of bridge issue that could bring members of both parties together to criticize Google and its competitors. What remedies could they call for? It's hard to say, but just having Congress on the record in favor of treating all people, wherever they live, as having equal rights to access information would be a powerful statement.

On a related note: Check out Sergey Brin's dissembling to Fortune when asked about the excuses Google offered that it follows similar rules in Europe and the United States, particularly with regards Nazi sites and child pornography: 

Brin: And we also by the way have to do similar things in the U.S. and Germany. We also have to block certain material based on law. The U.S., child pornography, for example, and also DMCA

Fortune: You actually actively block child pornography?

Brin: No, but if we got a specific government request.

Topic: Google

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  • Bullhocky

    Going after google changes nothing. They did what they did because things were going to come out the same regardless. Now they can somewhat control the censorship on their end and can provide real service.

    It changes nothing until you change chinese government... all this will do is reduce the quality of service to the chinese.
    • what?!?!

      Going after Google does everything.
      First, it sends a message that what Google is doing is hypocratic, and we know it.
      If they did what they did because things were going to come out the same regardless, then why do it? Let somebody else do it. That's like saying "I stole that car with the keys left in the ingnition 'cause someone else was going to do it anyways". "Control censorship"?!? Is that anything like "military intelligence"?

      It changes nothing because Google is doing nothing to change anything. They're saying, "Ok China, whatever you say, as long as we get your 3 billion viewers to hit our site". Reduce the quality of service to China? This is no service, this is a diservice, it would be better if Google did nothing at all in China.

      Finally, congress is crazy. How dare they even begin to grumble about what Google does in China. CRAZY!

      I hate to through in such a long quote but its very applicable:
      "There currently are a few countries which must obtain an annual presidential waiver or extension of a waiver to continue their NTR status. China is the most important country in this group which must obtain an annual waiver to maintain NTR. The waiver for China has been in effect since 1980. Every year, since 1989, legislation has been introduced in Congress to disapprove the President's waiver. The legislation has sought to tie China's NTR renewal to meeting certain human rights conditions that go beyond freedom of emigration. Through 1998, attempts to deny China NTR have failed. NTR is likely to be approved for China in 1999 as well."
      • Oh please...

        Military intelligence? Oh please- the government just wants the ability to block whatever it pleases- Every government in the world is more than a little jealous of China's decent setup.

        I do disagree with google accepting censorship from the Chinese government _BUT_ any censorship demanded of it by any other government (ESP. the US government) must be made available.
        (Don't throw stones if you live in a greenhouse etc)

        What next? The bush administration may even start not inviting certain journalists to press conferences in order to get friendlier questions and coverage!

        You would be forgiven for thinking it was all about oil...
  • Let me add that I hope Congress doesn't make a law

    This is a case where the bully pulpit Congress has can be used to
    good ends. If they start legislating, then it will be a disaster.

    It is time that people stand up and say to companies, which are an
    increasingly powerful part of society, that we expect more, even the
    highest standards.
    Mitch Ratcliffe
    • San Francsco shouldn't allow a Google Muni Wifi solution without privacy

      In an attempt to rollout a San Francisco Citywide Wireless Internet plan (TechConnect) two major approaches being considered by San Francisco which may significantly encroach on the public's privacy. The two options are a for-profit solution which will finance the solution by monetizing the public's privacy or grants from Homeland Security. This occurs in the context of elected officials and city administrators patting themselves on the back for what the voters approved (2004) in a watch law ordinance that makes Patriot Act requests difficult for the Federal government to pursue in San Francisco.

      The targeted advertising solution (google and others) would track all the email and surfing habits of any user. This information could be used as in Gmail and Amazon to send specific advertising. It is of course , also available for National Security Letters and other legal methods which would not be presented within the legal context of San Francisco - avoiding the Watch Law. While networks can be created that do not track a user's private information (no server logs, not logging clickstreams etc) that is not a method being promoted publically by vendors like Google and in fact is partly the reason the Justice Department and Google are now fighting over production of user's search records - Google can't say they just don't have the information.

      While there are questions about Privacy in the RFP, they were specifically written as Open Ended rather than as Minimal Standards. Public Advocates and Organizations like ACLU, and have all written and some have spoken about their concerns with this approach Before the RFP was created and released - yet no changes were made.

      Also San Francisco has the ability to waive any RFP requirements in the contract negotiation process anyhow.

      The other funding concept that is being quietly discussed as a mechanism for the San Francisco Municipal Wireless solution is Homeland Security Grants - the calendar image below is from the city official Chris Vein who is in charge of the RFP process which requires bid submittals by 2006/2/21

      Washington Post: 2006-01-19 Fed Grants (Homeland Security) for Surveillance Cameras for Small Towns .. this seems related to Municipal Wireless funding efforts as well in San Francisco

      The Homeland Security funding option: "Motorola?s proposal suggests that the city pitch the project as a public safety issue, and capitalize on grants from government organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security. They suggest that the network would help law enforcement by enabling the SFPD to put wireless cameras across the city cheaply, and that the signal from a particular camera could be routed wirelessly to officers in their cars as they approached the scene." (thanks to for summary)

      Combined brief ACLU, and

      SF Watch Law Re Patriot Act

      Jackson West summary of TechConnect RFI/C submittals (the step before the current RFP process)