Senator Criticizes Tech Companies For Lack Of Cooperation On Internet Censorship

Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), speaking Tuesday at the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, of which he is chairman, criticized the industry as a whole for failing to address growing impositions on Internet freedom.

"The bottom line is this: with a few notable exceptions, the technology industry seems unwilling to regulate itself and unwilling even to engage in a dialogue with Congress about the serious human rights challenges the industry faces," Durbin said. "In the face of this resistance, I have decided that it is time to take a more active role."

He singled out Google as an example of lax treatment of censorship.

"If you go to and search for "Tiananmen," you will find pictures of the famous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, especially the iconic photo of a demonstrator standing in front of several tanks. But if you go to, Google's China search engine, and search for 'Tiananmen,' you will only find beautiful postcard images," Durbin said during the hearing.

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"Let me be clear," he added. "I'm not singling out Google. Yahoo!, and Bing, Microsoft's search engine, also censor the internet in China. And Baidu, the leading Chinese search engine, censors even more content than these American companies."

Durbin acknowledged Google has announced a plan to stop censoring their Chinese search engine. Nicole Wong, Google vice president and deputy general counsel, attended the hearing and said Google is "no longer willing to censor our search results in China."

Overall progress in addressing human rights issues appears to be stagnant, Durbin said.

Some companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, have participated in the Global Network Initiative, or GNI, a voluntary code of conduct launched in October 2008 that that requires technology companies to take reasonable measures to protect human rights. But no other companies have joined, he said.

Durbin said he also received a cool reception from computer manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard and Apple, when he contacted them about China's "Green Dam" program to censor political content.

"Last year, the Chinese government announced that they would require all computers sold in China to include software called "Green Dam," which censors political content and records user activity," Durbin said. "Thanks to opposition from the U.S. government and companies, the Chinese government eventually backed down. This incident highlighted the human rights challenges faced by computer manufacturers. I invited Hewlett Packard and Apple to testify about these challenges but they also refused."

He said he also received little support when he tried to address the misuse of filtering software by governments.

"Filtering software produced by American companies has allegedly been used to censor the internet in several countries with repressive governments," Durbin said. "I invited McAfee, which produces filtering software, to testify today. McAfee initially agreed to appear, but on Friday informed us that they were pulling out."