TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Congress Grills Internet Executives

Congress Grills Internet Executives

Joel Rothstein & Paul Eckert (
Wed, 15 Feb 2006 16:23:29 -0600

By Joel Rothstein and Paul Eckert

U.S. lawmakers lashed out at Google Inc. and other prominent Internet
companies on Wednesday, with one Democrat questioning "how your
corporate leadership sleeps at night" because of the companies'
alleged complicity in human rights abuses by the Chinese government.

As representatives from Google, Yahoo Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. and
Microsoft Corp. looked on, lawmakers from both political parties
delivered a withering attack.

"Your abhorrent activities in China are a disgrace. I simply do not
understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night," said
Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on a House International
Relations subcommittee on human rights. Lantos' California district
includes Silicon Valley.

The Republican chairman of the subcommittee, Chris Smith of New
Jersey, held the hearing to ask the companies about their procedures
in China and demands from the Chinese government.

Last week, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group
for journalists, said Yahoo provided electronic records to Chinese
authorities that led to an eight-year prison sentence for writer Li
Zhi in 2003. In September, Yahoo was accused of helping Chinese
authorities identify Shi Tao, who was accused of leaking state secrets
abroad and was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison.

Google came under fire last month for bowing to Chinese pressure to
block politically sensitive terms on its new Chinese site. Microsoft
has also angered human rights activists by blocking the blog of a
critic of the Beijing government.


Smith said he planned to introduce a bill this week to formalize the
goals of a new State Department task force to help American technology
companies protect freedom of expression in countries that censor
online content.

The bill will include export controls on certain types of hardware and
software and prohibit putting e-mail servers and other assets in
countries that lack U.S.-style due process laws, Smith said.

"If a company allows itself -- in its filtering capability -- to
filter terms such as 'democracy' and 'religious freedom,' they will be
in violation of U.S. law," Smith told Reuters regarding the proposed

At the hearing, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher introduced
dissident Yuan Li, who was seated in the audience, to the
panel. Looking directly at the U.S. executives, he said: "You have to
choose between Mr. Lee and a gangster regime."

Li, a U.S. citizen, was beaten in his Atlanta apartment. He writes for
a Web site that is critical of the Chinese government.

"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," said Google Vice President Elliot Schrage.

Google's new product for China "respects the content restrictions
imposed by Chinese laws and regulations," he said.

Yahoo Senior Vice President Michael Callahan acknowledged that the Shi
Tao case "raises profound and troubling questions about basic human
rights." He said Yahoo "made our views clearly known to the Chinese

Some lawmakers indicated that Congress must consider practical issues
of diplomacy and trade when negotiating with a powerful competitor
like China.

"The U.S. trade deficit with China shows that while we value the
potential of their market, they value the reality of our market," Adam
Schiff, a California Democrat, told Reuters. "It is in this area that
we should use our leverage."

Nonetheless, some action is expected.

"After this hearing, it is clear we cannot accept business as usual,"
said Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican.

"These companies tell us that they will change China, but China has
already changed them," Lantos said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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