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3/3/2010
01:28 PM
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Google Urges Anti-Censorship Trade Rules

But lawmakers want companies to take the lead against online censorship.

Faced with technology companies that appear to be unwilling to stand up for human rights, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin on Tuesday said he plans to introduce legislation to force companies "to take reasonable steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability."

Durbin was speaking at the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, which he chairs, on Tuesday. The hearing was attended by representatives of the State Department and the Commerce Department, Princeton University technology policy fellow Rebecca MacKinnon, Iranian blogger Omid Memarian, and Google VP and deputy general counsel Nicole Wong.

Other companies that were invited declined to attend.

The purpose of the hearing was to discuss global Internet freedom, a cause that appears to have gained some support in the U.S. government since Google declared in January that a cyber attack from China had prompted it to re-evaluate its business in the country.

"One of the most pressing challenges posed by the Internet is the censorship of online information," said Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, also present at the hearing. "For some time now, we have witnessed the troubling efforts of repressive regimes -- such as the governments of China, Iran and North Korea -- to censor, or in some cases eliminate, their citizens' access to information via the Internet. Most Americans are by now very familiar with the troubling reports that the government of China has hacked into the private e-mail accounts of human rights activists. We must address these serious challenges to freedom of expression head-on."

Google is doing that, or at least talking about it. Wong reiterated that Google is "no longer willing to censor our search results in China" and that the company is still reviewing its options.

Yet Durbin showed that Google's willingness to cease censoring search results in China has not translated into action. Google's Chinese Web site, google.cn, he said, still returns censored search results for queries related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, as it did at a similar hearing two years ago.

And he said that Google was not alone in this practice, noting that Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo, and Chinese search engine Baidu also censor search results. In fact, he commended Google for its intention to stop censoring in China and said he looked forward to an update on Google's plans.

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