Laws to restrict tech firms’ cooperation with the PRC?

This could raise the discussion to a whole new level. I’m reserving judgement because no one knows what these laws will end up looking like, and whether they’ll be used as political ammunition to pump up the “China Threat” argument.

After hearing reports that American tech giants like Microsoft and Yahoo are abiding by Chinese law mandating Internet censorship, some irritated U.S. politicians are threatening to pass laws restricting such cooperation.

Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, said Thursday that the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human Rights, which he heads, will hold a hearing in early to mid- February. Smith has invited representatives from the U.S. State Department, Microsoft, Yahoo, Cisco Systems, Google, and the international watchdog group Reporters Without Borders to speak.

The effort is designed to determine what can be done, either by legislative mandate or on a voluntary basis, to “dissociate a company from working hand-in-glove with a dictatorship,” Smith said in a telephone interview with CNET

A similar hearing is planned for Feb. 1 in the Congressional Human Rights Caucus said Ryan Keating, communications director for Rep. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat leading the parallel effort. The caucus, unlike the human rights subcommittee, is an “informal” committee that is overseen by about 30 House members and includes a few hundred others, Smith among them, as supporting members.

As first reported by the Boston Globe, both Ryan and Smith are in the process of concocting new laws. These will likely take cues from recommendations issued by Reporters Without Borders and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a 12-member, congressionally-selected governmental panel.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders this week backed a law banning an American company from hosting an e-mail server in any “repressive” country. It’s also suggested that American corporations come up with a joint plan for how to handle censorship requests from foreign governments, including refusal to censor terms like “democracy” and “human rights.”

I’m for free trade and all. But we’re back to the question of limits – just how far do we go in “cooperating” with repellent regulations that go against our national principles? It’s going to be an emotional argument.

“If Yahoo isn’t doing business in China, someone else will,” said Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies at the free-market Pacific Research Institute. “It’s putting American businesses at a disadvantage in the world marketplace.” Arrison suggested that instead U.S. companies join together to present a unified front to the Chinese government.

[Rep. Christopher] Smith said there’s reason to worry about other countries as well. He recently traveled to Vietnam, where he had an emotional meeting with the family of a man serving a 13-year prison sentence. His crime? Translating an American document about democracy that he had downloaded from the Web.

U.S. companies should want no part in such behavior, he said: “The crime, I would submit, is committed by the countries themselves.”

This should be quite a show.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

This is promising.
Of course, there’s the caveat that “If Yahoo isn’t doing business in China, someone else will,” said Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies at the free-market Pacific Research Institute. “It’s putting American businesses at a disadvantage in the world marketplace.”
I’m proud that Britain didn’t say at the start of the 19th century “If we aren’t involved in the slave trade someone else will be, and that will put our economy/livliehood/wellbeing at risk.”
How about another comparison of how the qualities that maketh man have sunk in the past few decades: I was reading in Harper’s yesterday an article that compares Churchill who strengthened British resolve at a truly dangerous time with courage, whereas Blair does so through fear.
A better comparison between Bush and his reputed hero I have yet to find (well, I’m sure if I googled “churchill, Bush, integrity” I would, but I can’t be arsed.

January 13, 2006 @ 10:41 pm | Comment

in my eyes, those tech companies are the accomplices to dictators.
I also have one blog in MSN Space. but after Anti’s Blog having been removed by microsoft, i fear my MSN space and other confidential information like IP address and registration info will be sent to china goverment by microsoft too. so i decided not to post any political posts onto my space any more.

January 13, 2006 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

Well said, Keir.

The “If Yahoo isn’t doing business in China, someone else will,” argument is the biggest cop-out in history.

Doubtless, Bush’s grandpappy sad the same thing about his business deals with Hitler.

January 13, 2006 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

I really like your counter-argument, Keir. Market share at any cost – what a scary mentality.

January 14, 2006 @ 12:13 am | Comment

Jeffery, sorry to hear that the Microsoft-Anti episode has silenced your own blog when it comes to politics. You are welcome to post your views here anytime, either in the comments or in guest posts.

January 14, 2006 @ 12:15 am | Comment

ESWN translation of Anti’s reaction to this:

As for what the US Congress Represenatives want to legislate, this is totally the business of the American people. I don’t feel that the freedom of speech of the Chinese people can be protected by the US Congress. If the freedom of speech of the citizens of a great country has to be protected by the legislature of another country, this shows how distant the country is from the greatness that we longed for…

Furthermore, at a time when globalization and politics are mixed up, I do not think that we can treat everything in black-and-white terms as being for or against the improvement of freedom and rights for the people of CHina. On one hand, Microsoft shut down a blog to interfere with the freedom of speech in China. On the other hand, MSN Spaces has truly improved the ability and will of the Chinese people to use blogs to speak out and MSN Messenger also affected the communication method over the Internet.

He said it better than I could.

January 14, 2006 @ 12:19 am | Comment

I don’t feel that the freedom of speech of the Chinese people can be protected by the US

Absolutely true. However, the US Congress can affect the plans and policies of companies seeking to cozy up with repressive dictatorships. Whether this would be good or bad remains to be seen; laws are messy things, and this one has the potential to open a can of worms.

January 14, 2006 @ 2:09 am | Comment

There are a lot more things involved here than meet they eye, and I, for one, am worried that Congress is going to come up with some very bad legislation that could do more damage than good.

Plus, this isn’t ‘just’ about China. This legislation could potentiall be used (not to mention abused) against other countries and issues.

January 14, 2006 @ 5:18 am | Comment

NYT article today you might want to blog on:

China, Still Winning Against the Web

January 15, 2006 @ 2:01 am | Comment

Michael, good story; no time to blog it now. I am not sure I agree fully with its headline – i read an article just two days ago that made a persuasive case for the exact opposite conclusion. But either way, you have to give the CCP an “E” for Effort.

January 15, 2006 @ 3:22 am | Comment

America really needs to do this. If the USA is ready and able to project it’s legal reach beyond it’s borders to reach other goals, then it needs to show some even-handedness. On the one hand the US imposes it’s health standards internationally by preventing passengers from smoking on inbound flights, and states that all who attack US citizens are under it’s jurisdiction regardless of location, and on the other it ignores human and civil rights violations on behalf of it’s business partners and it’s own corporations.
C’mon America, show us that you’re capable of moves on the international stage that are not merely self-serving.

January 16, 2006 @ 1:29 am | Comment


“Feds after Google data

By Howard Mintz
Mercury News

The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.

The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content accessible to minors. The government contends it needs the Google data to determine how often pornography shows up in online searches.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period


January 21, 2006 @ 1:23 am | Comment

The google issue is not in any way, shapre or form comparable to what’s going on in China. There is no censorship and no threat of punishing citizens for expressing themselves. Here, google is free to contest the government’s order. But the Bush government’s bullying of companies is similar to that of the CCP’s, if that’s your point. I won’t argue with that.

January 21, 2006 @ 5:56 am | Comment

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