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Great Firewall hearings in a nutshell

Good Morning Silicon Valley: 'Given a choice, representatives of four big tech companies probably wouldn't be spending the day sitting in front of a congressional panel getting their eyebrows singed by accusations that they consort with torturers.'

Just one more post on the  Great Firewall of China hearings, from the daily email of the Mercury News' Good Morning Silicon Valley. Worth a read in its entirety:

Given a choice, representatives of four big tech companies probably wouldn't be spending the day sitting in front of a congressional panel getting their eyebrows singed by accusations that they consort with torturers. But there they sat today -- the crash-test dummies sent by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco to take the hit for their employers' concessions to repression as the price of doing business in China -- as Rep. Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, unloaded on them: "Your abhorrent actions in China are a disgrace. I simply don't understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.'' And Republican Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on global human rights, produced a quote that should be engraved on the entrance of every stock exchange: "Cooperation with tyranny should not be embraced for the sake of profits."

The responses from the witnesses was familiar: The "lesser evil" argument (Google's Elliot Schrage: "The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship -- something that runs counter to Google's most basic values and commitments as a company. ... [but Google entered the market believing it] will make a meaningful, though imperfect, contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China.'') and the "little us" argument (Yahoo's Michael Callahan: "These issues are larger than any one company, or any one industry.' ... We appeal to the U.S. government to do all it can to help us provide beneficial services to Chinese citizens lawfully and in a way consistent with our shared values.").

For Rep. Smith, that just doesn't cut it. "It's an active partnership with both the disinformation campaign and the secret police, and the secret police in China are among the most brutal on the planet," he said. "I don't know if these companies understand that or they're naive about it, whether they're witting or unwitting. But it's been a tragic collaboration. There are people in China being tortured courtesy of these corporations.'' Smith is drafting a bill that would boost funding for so-called countercensorship technologies, impose federal licensing requirements for the export of Internet censorship technologies, mandate that e-mail servers be located outside the country's borders to prevent police from tracking down dissidents, and a establish a code of conduct for doing business in repressive countries. As Ben Elgin notes in BusinessWeek, this is hardly the all-or-nothing choice that tech companies are making it out to be.