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Reporters without Borders (RWB) today issued its "Enemies of the Internet" report, exposing state censorship of free speech and expression around the world.  Topping the group's list were Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

While the United States is not on the list, RWB and Amnesty International earlier in the week highlighted the role of U.S. companies in internet censorship by calling on Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google to uncensor their search engines and blogging portals, even if just for a day, on the World Day Against Cyber Censorship (today March 12th).

The call on the companies is a reminder that censorship does not just happen by states acting alone. The very companies that provide access to information on-line are actively participating in the restriction of such access.

So, what happens when U.S. companies adopt the censorship practices of other countries rather than export the ideals of free speech that are largely granted to users in their homeland?

There is a clear need for regulation. While the industry has begun attempts at self-regulation, they have made far too little progress in far too much time.  Rep. Chris Smith has been vigilant in trying to pass the Global Online Freedom Act, which would bring about transparency in state requests of U.S. firms to censor protected speech, and help the companies to refuse such requests, with the backing of the U.S. government.

To date, the companies have opposed the bill's chances of becoming law.

If RWB and Amnesty's call for one day of freedom from online censorship goes unheeded by the companies, it in itself will speak volumes -- how can we expect them to make meaningful strides in their ongoing operations if they can't even commit to a one-day, mostly a symbolic gesture?

If the U.S. doesn't want to find itself on the "enemies" list one day, it needs to step in and regulate companies based in its soil that are essentially partners in the crackdown on free expression occurring across the world.

- By Erica Razook, Acting Director of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA

Originally posted to Amnesty International USA on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 09:40 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You Are Asking Them (4+ / 0-) stop doing business in any of those countries.  You know as well as anybody that the actual effect of them lifting those censors (for an hour, let alone a day) is that nobody in China ever gets to go to Google again.  If that's what you want, ask for that.

    If spittle & tooth=vigor & youth Bill-O & Savage won't grow any older If wishes & dreams=bitches & beams We'll all live in skyscrapers bu

    by TooFolkGR on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 09:45:36 AM PDT

    •  Well, yes, that's GoogleHooSoft's argument. "If (0+ / 0-)

      we don't do it then someone else will." So?

      •  Someone else is already doing it (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The most popular search engine in China is not Google, Microsoft or Yahoo!, it's Baidu, a Chinese company.

        So the effect of lifting the censorship by the American companies will just be that they get kicked out and Baidu will be the only search engine available. And Baidu will have a lot worse negotiation position towards the Chinese government than the American companies have.

        Republicans 2008: Bigots for zygotes.

        by Calouste on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 10:26:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm quite aware of this. Baidu has (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          twice the market share that Google does. Baidu has no leverage now. The Chinese government makes policy, and companies abide by it. This happens whether there are 100 search companies or 1. Google's presence is not somehow giving Baidu some say in censorship. They don't negotiate anything now.

      •  I'm Just Asking for Honesty In The Diary... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SicPlurisPoenaPrestantia all.  "No censorship day," is meaningless.  They want everybody to boycott China until there's no more human rights abuse in the world, and they should just come out and say it.

        If spittle & tooth=vigor & youth Bill-O & Savage won't grow any older If wishes & dreams=bitches & beams We'll all live in skyscrapers bu

        by TooFolkGR on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 11:13:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  OK, but I don't read the diary as calling for a (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          boycott. I get two things from the diary:

          1. Anti-censorhip day. The "freedom from censorship" is not about users, and not about some permanent boycott. It's about corporate practices--on a single day when these companies are being asked to drop their filtering/blocking.
          1. Chris Smith's legislation.

          I think that number 2 is more important, and that number 1 is unlikely to occur, and would not be practical for any companies to consider if they want to continue to do business in all of their current markets.

  •  Companies and free speech (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Free Spirit

    Individual companies don't care about free speech. In fact you have no right to free speech in a company break room.  

    Why would a company give a flip about whether or not a given country has free speech?  It's not their JOB to maintain free speech anywhere.  

  •  do no evil (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Picot verde

    if that's their motto, shouldn't they care about the impact their censorship has on chinese dissidents?

  •  Cisco's complicity in oppression (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, Picot verde, tech ed

    I remember there were hearings before congress regarding the role played by YHOO, MSFT and GOOG in helping nations like China censor and monitor the internet.

    Tom Lantos, the full committee’s leading Democrat, told the company officials that they had amassed great wealth and influence "but apparently very little social responsibility".

    "Your abhorrent actions in China are a disgrace," Mr Lantos said. "I simply don’t understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."

    CSCO is quite a bit more nefarious, supplying surveillance equipment to China.

    We talk about Net Neutrality but RWB has a much broader point here.  Neutrality and access to information is a basic human right.

    Thanks for the diary.

    •  Stop the big brother syndrome. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Get the big corporations to support the system in which they were created, and in which they have flourished. That includes either helping to guarantee personal freedoms or taking a neutral stance and staying out of people's personal lives.

      "...our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested US worker." -Lawrence Lebowitz

      by tech ed on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 11:08:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Free speech is an american construct (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Most countries don't even have anything resembling it in their constitutions.

    The biggest threat to America is not communism, it's moving America toward a fascist theocracy... -- Frank Zappa

    by NCrefugee on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 11:04:06 AM PDT

  •  Freedom of Expression - Intl & Chinese Law (0+ / 0-)

    China has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which means it intends to be bound by the spirit of the Covenant.

    ICCPR Article 19 states that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference; that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, and that this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

    ICCPR Article 17 states that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy... or correspondence".

    Additionally, Article 35 the Chinese Constitution seeks to ensure that citizens enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration.

    Even where local law does not support the respect of international law, the UN Norms for Business state that companies shall respect human rights (including rights to freedom of expression and privacy).

  •  The human cost (0+ / 0-)

    The conversation here got me thinking about the human cost of these issues. There's a post about it here. Thanks for getting this started, Erica!

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