Why Is Congress Getting Involved Over The Chinese Search Engine Censorship Story

from the seems-like-a-bit-of-a-reach dept

While we’re disappointed that Google has agreed to create a censored version for China, it’s hard to see why the US government should be getting involved — but they are. As Sergey Brin speaks out (in a fair amount of detail) to defend the decision, a Congressman has called for hearings where Google, Yahoo and Microsoft will all be asked to speak. Of course, it’s a bit silly that this is happening now, after Google decided to do this. Yahoo and Microsoft have done the same thing for a while now. Of course, it’s even more ironic, given that the very same US government is fighting Google to put in place a law that has been thrown out for violating First Amendment rights (in other words, for the possibility of censorship). While it is a disappointing move by Google, it’s hard to see why the US government should be involved, other than for grandstanding on a hot topic.

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Comments on “Why Is Congress Getting Involved Over The Chinese Search Engine Censorship Story”

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Jon says:

Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

I don’t see how making the Chinese version of Google play by China’s rules is anything but the right thing to do.

For example, what if there were a country where murder was legal? A company from that country comes to the United States and sets up a murder-for-hire business. Is that okay, because it’s legal where they come from? Setting aside the common view that censorship is wrong (I believe that the Chinese government has the right to do it, even though I think it’s a terrible thing to do), how is this different from Google’s situation?

Sure, because it’s online, location and jurisdiction issues are complicated. But Google wants to bring its business to China, so they play by Chinese rules. I don’t like all of the rules in the US, but I obey them because I live here.

TheShaz (user link) says:

Re: Re: Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

What’s with the “” around President ? ? ?
Still whining about 2000? Care to explain 2004?
Politicians bloviate, it’s what they do. I think Google was wrong to do this, but personally think it’s pointless.
News is coming out – the locals are getting restless, and China will not be able to keep the Freedom Genie in the bottle for much longer. You can’t give people some Freedom and not expect them to want more. It’s adictive.

Jeff says:

Re: Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

If China decided to shoot 100+ students with large caliber machine guns would you ‘think it was terrible ‘ but believe the ‘Chinese government has the right to do it…’? Or how about jailing people for decades based on a religion the Chinese government considers a cult?
Censorship is a lessor issue here. Censorship implies that a Chinese Google user cannot see something the governement doesn’t want them to see. The reality is that the people in China cannot speak, write, post, fax or otherwise communicate the way they feel if it means they are critical of their own government or government official without risk of imprisonment, possible torture and sometimes death.
Does Google have a legal right to do business in China by China’s rules. Probably. Should Google refrain from doing business in China by China’s rules on moral grounds? In my opinion, yes.

A Funny Guy / The Poison Pen says:

Re: Re: Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

Although I am normally agaist govenment regulation of all types, perhaps it should be illegal for an american coutry to do business with country’s are so lax concerning personal freedoms….

However it seems even here in the good o’ USA those are getting slim to none.

How many laws have been passed recently that expand privacy rights? freedom of expresson? freedom of speech?

a few….

How many laws have been passed that restrict those same issues?

quite a few more……

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

Sadly, China is much like the US, if you wont do exactly what we want we will get what we want whether you decide to do it or not. War on terror? War on censorship? The real thing that drives all of these stories is money and for most of us that are not on the inside track to being multi-millionaire oil drilling, political kiss asses, we might not understand the real business of getting rich. Who can really blame Google, they aren’t in business to make friends, they just want to make some money and market their product like everyone else.

Clifford Edward VanMeter (user link) says:

Re: Re: Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

Google has been visible and vocal about its high moral standards. In fact here are three specific points from its own corporate philosophy statement ?
#4. Democracy on the web works.
… but is apparently secondary to profits.
#6. You can make money without doing evil.
… but being evil makes it easier to sleep at night.
#8. The need for information crosses all borders.
… except China’s.
This is choking, gagging, retching hipocracy. Enough for me to remove Google ads from my site and shut down my gmail account as of this weekend. Its simply dishonorable for me to support Google, while condemning their actions.
Personally, I applaud the Congress for investigating. I wish they’d broaden the investigation to include MSN, AOL and Cisco — companies that have also supplied technologies and services tailored to help a repressive, fascist regime retain power through ignorance. Yahoo requires special attention for their part in helping to identify and jail a Chinese dissident a few months back. That action, in a fair and just world, would have lead to criminal charges.
Clifford VanMeter

Josh Tomaino (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why shouldn't Google play by China's rules?

“#8. The need for information crosses all borders.
… except China’s.”
except by bringing Google to China, they are expanding user’s access to information. Just not as much as you would like it too.
||And just to note at my last comment, I was coming in an out of typing it for the last half hour or so.. adjust altercations as you see fit.||

Samuel says:

Re: Re: What about China

Congress is just trying to punish Google for defying congress by not handing over search terms last week.

What on Earth are you talking about?

If you had understood what is going on, you would know that it is the Bush administration, aka the Executive branch, that asked for the search terms.

It is the Legislative branch that is getting involved in this Chinese censorship affair. The two branches have nothing to do with one another on this.. it’s not “one big evil government” doing it all.

Get your facts straight before you post (although to be fair, this blog certainly doesn’t attract the technically elite)

A Funny Guy / The Poison Pen says:

Re: Re: Re: What about China

Sameul – you need to wake up dude…. It is one big evil government out there…..

I hear things ever day that convince me more and more to move from this country.. We are headed the way of china and the police state…

I hope you don’t live to see it by poor ignorate friend cause you life will be the worse for it

Matthew says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What about China

There are so many opinions out there so I am just going to throw mine to the wolves and see what happens:

I do understand that Google is just trying to make a buck (hand over fist by the way) but there has to be a point where they get slapped with a reality check: Is this right? They (Google) are just fueling Communisim. I think Google should take a stand against China and deny their request for a censored search engine. What’s the worse that can happen to them? If anything, I think it would show that Google has American patriotism and in my eyes, it would be more of a respected company for standing up for something that is right rather than trying to make their stock go up.

Just my .02

Steve says:

Re: Re: Re: What about China

If you had understood what is going on, you would know that it is the Bush administration, aka the Executive branch, that asked for the search terms.

It is the Legislative branch that is getting involved in this Chinese censorship affair. The two branches have nothing to do with one another on this.. it’s not “one big evil government” doing it all.

This would be true IF Congress wasn’t controlled by the same party running the Executive branch — a Congress that has shown time-and-again they will go along with just about anything the administration wants (unless they’re coming up for re-election).

Ron says:


The congressman’s name is Chris Smith of NJ, he’s chairperson on the subcommittee for human rights, and apparently heading the investigation. Here’s what he has to say on the matter:

“It is astounding that Google, whose corporate philosophy is ‘Don’t be Evil,’ would enable evil by co-operating with China’s censorship policies just to make a buck.”

and more importantly,

“Many Chinese have suffered imprisonment and torture in the service of truth – and now Google is collaborating with their persecutors.”

Sit back and think on that last quote for a minute before you react. I mean really take a good moment to think about it hard. I can think of many historical figures from America’s past, who had every opportunity to choose money over principle, but chose the latter. Had they chosen otherwise, you may not have the freedoms you enjoy today. Think about it again until the meaning sinks in.

Maybe the House isn’t full of corporate cronies after all; maybe there are some individuals left with what is known as a conscience. Some like Chris Smith. If I lived in his district, he’d have my vote in a second.

Budgiebird says:

Re: Re: Principle

I attempted to post the comment below on Google website and was unsuccessful because the confirmation e-mail for account creation went into a black hole somewhere. I wonder if they are being deluged with traffic over this China thing. Gee that ought to bring their online help to a halt and get some business customers really pissed off. Fortunately there were already lots of nasty posts on there from people previously registered.

I had to create a google account just to enter this comment or I would not otherwise have done so. If you guys are not above participating in censorship in China can anybody trust that you are above participating in censorship in the U.S. or elsewhere? Have you considered the “business impact” of this action in the U.S. as well? Or may it be that there are some websites out there that some of your U. S. high tech CEO cronies would just LOVE to have blocked, especially those that report on the dubious entanglement of U.S. corporations (WALMART INCLUDED) with China and with other countries pirating our personal information, intellectual property and jobs? If the rejection of the subpoena from the U.S. government was meant to protect user confidence then censorship anywhere definitely does not.

Dave says:

Re: Principle

I’m not saying I agree or disagree with you. However, it still doesn’t answer the question of why is Congress involved. Principle is not law, nor should it be. Is Google right to do what it does? I don’t know the answer to that. Should Congress spend taxpayer’s money to find out why Google wants to make as much money as they can? Well, it doesn’t take a Congressional hearing to answer that question. The answer is simple. Google is a publicly traded company who is chartered by it’s shareholders to increase the value of their investment. Value comes in tangible revenue and intangible perception. The fact that Google made this decision is their business and they will be rewarded or repremanded in the open market. This is the heart of capitalism and by doing whatever is necessary to “make a buck” in China is their decision. Let the market (of which we are all a part of) decide if it was the right thing to do or not. Let congress worry about other issues more fitting of a such a body and stop wasting our tax dollars on the story of the week.

Scott Stirling says:

Re: Principle

Hear, hear. We can only project Chris Smith’s motives based on our own preferences and experience, but I am all for bringing Google to task for the Chinese filtering. Who cares about Yahoo! and MS search services? I don’t use them. Do you? I use and I like Google’s software. And I have been fed a lot of propaganda from Google about their “do good” policies towards employees and customers.
The Lehrer NewsHour had some good coverage on this last night. Basically how it works is Google has configures the filtering on their servers in California — this isn’t happening in China, it’s in CA. There’s an unofficial list of search terms that the search engine companies all know about, according to the report. If someone from the Chinese government calls to request more search terms to be filtered then the search companies comply. You can’t get any results for “Tiananmen Square” that mention the 1989 protests, for example (as demonstrated on the news show). That’s wrong. It creeps down the slippery slope to selling billy clubs and guns to the Chinese to control their people. Some people say, hey, it’s just economics or hey, it’s all above board with the Chinese. What it *is* is this: an American company working with the Chinese government to deny their people the very principles of democracy and freedom that enable companies like Google to exist and thrive in the first place.
I don’t know if a congressional hearing is really that useful. But I think anything that legally and compellingly confronts Google with the disgust many of us feel at their collusion with Chinese censors is perfectly OK. It reminds me of like James Frey’s fictional memoir — if he published it as fiction, fine, but he (and his publisher) didn’t. Same thing with Google — if they weren’t strutting their high principles so publicly, I wouldn’t care as much: “Pride goeth before a fall,” as the proverb says. I think it’s a good thing Google has followed Yahoo! and MS in this case because it brought to publicity to a practice that none of them should be enabling.

Hallie says:

Re: Re: Principle

I just don’t understand the American attitude that what we do in this country and the way we do it are the *only* way things should be done, and that everyone in the world is pining for the “American Way Of Life.” Why is it that we insist upon imposing *our* world view on the rest of the world? It strikes me as the height of arrogance, and is pretty intolerant to boot. We seem to think that no other people can make a change in their government without us meddling in their internal affairs. Well, we tried that in Southeast Asia (didn’t work there,) Latin America (didn’t work there,) and we’re trying in Iraq now (doesn’t seem to be working there, either.) I can’t think of one country where we’ve intervened that’s had a stable government, one that didn’t collapse after we pulled out and let the people decide for themselves.
I don’t care for what I read of conditions in China, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live under that system, but you know what? It’s their country, and it’s none of my business how they run it. There’s 1.3 billion Chinese, and when/if they get tired of living as they do, *they’ll* change things.
As for the point of this thread — Google is a business trying to make a profit in China. They do things the Chinese way or they don’t do business in China.

rich (user link) says:

Privacy for Privacy

The point is valid about Congress’hypocrisy, but the matter they are asking for the Google logs on (child porn) is a favorite topic for the US Congress.

This could be an attempt to build public pressure and sway public opinion with the presentation of:
“You are willing to help a repressful regime stifle freedom in China. You are NOT willing to help the bastion of democracy fight child pornography. Isn’t your motto Do No evil?”

Josh Tomaino (user link) says:

It's The Law, Obey it B*tch!

All of you saying that Google is doing the wrong thing by obeying China’s laws, despite your dislike of communist China (get a grip losers, the Cold War is f’n over), are just making fools of yourselves.
If any of you had a brain, you’d remember Microsoft blatantly threatened Korea about anti-trust laws in that they were going to remove Windows from the Korean market. You can find the Techdirt post here if you’d like to refresh your memory: Click
So, while Microsoft is “conforming” to laws such as those in Europe forcing them to unbundle Windows Media Player, how is Google being “Evil” by “conforming” to China’s laws about censorship??
If you think that China is the only one censoring google, the U.S. Government is too! (BUST!) If you think America was safe, you’re wrong. Google, by US law, has had to block content regarding child pornography. This is against the law in America, so instead of blocking Google from the U.S., they blocked child pornography. How is this different from China?
‘In France and Germany there are Nazi material laws. One thing we do, and which we are implementing in China as well, is that if there’s any kind of material blocked by local regulations we put a message to that effect at the bottom of the search engine. “Local regulations prevent us from showing all the results.” And we’re doing that in China also, and that makes us transparent.’
It doesn’t matter wether you think the law is unjust, or what the law is. What matters is that it’s a law, and you HAVE to obey it. Do you like the law against murder? WHAT? Do you think I care what you think? No! It’s the law! Obey it B*tch!
So the next time you want to accuse companys of being hypocritical, or down right evil, look at the law. After all, you wouldn’t want another country’s laws imposing how you live your life, or operate your business, when you have no standing, business-relationship with that country.
Now, to congress getting involved. Well, screw them.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

“It is astounding that Google, whose corporate philosophy is ‘Don’t be Evil,’ would enable evil by co-operating with United States’ censorship policies just to make a buck.”

and more importantly,

“Many Americans have suffered imprisonment and torture in the service of truth – and now Google is collaborating with their persecutors.”

John says:

China controls the liberals, we need to follow sui

Democracy in China? Why would they want it? They have a tremendous advantage over the US in that they can weed out the liberal left wingers before they do their damage. The example of Google is one we need to consider here! Just look what the liberal left has done to this country, the welfare settlements and culture, the unrestrained growth of the entitlement system, the suppression of growth of our military industrial complex, the treasonous acts by Clinton and his left-wing croonies to sell our national secrets, the anything goes nothing is sacred media machine that entices youth to digard the values that this country was founded on just to name a few.

Business is business, the liberals have already cost us dearly with their bleeding heart mentality. We need to get ride of the liberals and get back on track.

The time to learn from the Chinese is now, lets learn from them and begin the long process of eliminating the liberals in this country just like the Chinese have done in theirs! We have to root out the liberals from the fabric of this country, before we fall victim to the efficiency of Chinese Military Industrial Complex. Our task should be to harmonize with the Chinese, not opppose them, learn from them and build a solid friendship. The enemy is within our borders, the enemy is the liberal left wing in this country.

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