This Wednesday, representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Cisco will appear before a House of Representatives panel on human rights to discuss their compliance with Chinese censorship requests. In the run to gain a foothold in the Chinese market, both Microsoft and Google have said they were blocking access in China to certain web sites which featured keywords like Democracy and Tiananmen (in reference to the violently suppressed 1989 student protest), while Yahoo and Cisco have reportedly assisted Chinese authorities track down political dissidents by turning over information.
China is one of the fastest growing international online markets, and American companies face stiff competition there both with each other and with domestic online services like internet portal Sohu and search engine Baidu. The human rights panel claims that by giving in to Chinese censorship regulations, internet companies are being used to spread communist propaganda and control the public. “China’s policy of cutting off the free flow of information is prohibitive for the growth of democracy and the rule of law,” said panel co-chair Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey in a statement, adding, “The ability to communicate openly is the key to unlock the door to freedom for those who cannot feel its touch, and these companies can help to provide that”
The companies involved have publicly stated that they are exercising good business practice by complying with domestic Chinese law, and that access to American search engines actually encourages openness. “I think (the Internet) is contributing to Chinese political engagement,” said Bill Gates last month at the World Economic Forum last month adding, “access to the outside world is preventing more censorship.”
The one-day hearing is being called “The Internet in China: A tool for freedom or suppression?”