Google Urges Anti-Censorship Trade Rules

But lawmakers want companies to take the lead against online censorship.
Wong, however, provided no new information about the attacks that Google disclosed in January or about Google's future in China. She did say that Google was not ready to identify those responsible for the attack. "I want to stress that while we know these attacks came from China, we are not prepared to say who is carrying out these attacks," she said in prepared remarks. "We do know such attacks are violations of China's own laws and we would hope that the Chinese authorities will work with US officials to investigate this matter."

The New York Times last month reported that the attacks had been traced to Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School, a charge that representatives of both schools have denied.

Wong also urged U.S. and foreign governments to implement rules to address information economy trade barriers, echoing a similar call to treat censorship as a trade barrier in 2006. "We encourage further efforts along these lines, by the U.S. government and other governments to redress favoritism show by some governments for indigenous companies over U.S.-based corporations," she said. "We should continue to look for effective ways to address unfair foreign trade barriers in the online world: to use trade agreements, trade tools, and trade diplomacy to promote the free flow of information on the Internet."

Durbin praised Google, Microsoft and Yahoo for helping to launch the Global Network Initiative two years ago. The GNI is a set of voluntary guidelines that requires technology companies to take steps to protect human rights.

Durbin also expressed disappointment that no new companies have joined GNI in the past year and a half.

"Many companies told me the GNI is not relevant to their company's business," he said. "The last two years have shown that simply is not true. The explosive growth of social networking services, like Twitter and Facebook, has helped human rights activists organize and publicize human rights violations in Iran and elsewhere. However, repressive governments can use these same tools to monitor and crack down on advocates."

Durbin said that he had invited Facebook and Twitter to testify and that they refused. He also noted that in light of China's effort last summer to force PC makers to install Green Dam Web filtering software, he asked HP and Apple to testify and that they too refused. He said that he had invited McAfee, which makes filtering software, to testify, and that company representatives backed out at the last minute.

"The bottom line is this: with a few notable exceptions, the technology industry seems unwilling to regulate itself and unwilling even to engage in a dialogue with Congress about the serious human rights challenges the industry faces," he said.

MacKinnon urges companies, individuals, and governments to stand up and defend Internet freedom.

"The inconvenient truth is that authoritarianism is adapting to the Internet age," she said. "Google's recent public challenge to the Chinese government's cyber-attacks and censorship took place in this broader context. In my view it shows a recognition that the status quo -- in terms of authoritarian censorship, regulation, and manipulation of the Internet -- will not necessarily improve any time soon, and could continue get worse unless a broader range of companies, citizens, and governments, realize what's happening and take responsibility for the future of freedom in the Internet age."

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Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
Kelly Jackson Higgins 2, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading