With all the buzz around Google's China portal ("new filters make the Web whiter and brighter than ever!"), the debate over what Net companies do to get along with the Chinese government turned overtly political. A Congressional hearing took up the issue, with of course no power whatsoever to do anything about it, and the four invited companies declined to attend. Politicians had their day anyway. Selected sentiments from the AP:
- Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, said, Lantos, top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said: "These massively successful high-tech companies, which couldn't bring themselves to send representatives to this meeting today, should be ashamed. They caved in to Beijing for the sake of profits."
- Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said American companies will continue to expand in the Chinese market, "but they should not let profits take precedence over traditional democratic values such as freedom of speech."
While attendance at Wednesday's briefing was not mandatory, companies could be compelled with subpoenas to attend a Feb. 15 hearing on the issue, said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on global human rights.
In an interview, the lawmaker criticized U.S. Internet companies, saying they were helping China arrest and torture activists and screen information from its citizens.
"This is not benign or neutral," Smith said of companies acceding to China's demands. "They have an obligation not to be promoting dictatorship."