02/02/2006, 00.00
CHINA – UNITED STATES
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US Congress warns IT firms against China censorship

Lawmakers slam companies for putting profits before freedom. A code of conduct is under discussion. Anger is high in the Chinese blogger community.

Washington (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The US Congress has condemned major IT firms for helping China censor the internet. In China, web forums are carrying angry comments.

Members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus said that Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Yahoo were putting profits before the principle of free speech.

"With all their power and influence, wealth and high visibility, they neglected to commit to the kind of positive action that human rights activists in China take every day," Representative Tom Lantos said of the companies.

The four companies have been summoned to a February 15 hearing by the House International Relations Subcommittee, which oversees human rights issues, because they have accepted to filter access to the internet and provide Chinese authorities with information about who goes online. For instance, Google filters out terms such as "human rights" or "Taiwan independence". Yahoo has been accused of providing Chinese authorities with information that enabled them to arrest web journalist Shi Tao who authored several articles on human rights violations in China. Microsoft blocked the site of a well-known Chinese journalist.

Internet expert Carolyn Bartholomew said that China was becoming the biggest internet hub in its region, and was exporting filtration technology that allowed other "oppressive regimes, including North Korea and Uzbekistan" to control and use the web for their own ends.

Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said they supported Congress requiring a code of conduct for Internet companies to protect freedom of speech.

In China, local bloggers greeted Google's decision with anger.

"It is shameful that Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others are collaborating with a repressive regime in China—much in the same way that some firms did with Nazi Germany decades ago," wrote one commentator on a blog based in the central Chinese city of Changsha.

"History will send those collaborators to court, and I hope, very soon," said the commentator, identified as Erping Zhang.

"Western companies always change their initial stance when they get to China," another commentator, identified as "Watson", said. (PB)

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