Google Censorship Dispute With China Could Go Before WTO

The U.S. Trade Representative's office is reviewing legal arguments in Google's case with an eye on possibly taking the case before the WTO as an unfair barrier to trade, according to a Bloomberg story.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association and the First Amendment Coalition, two organizations that have been supporting Google in its dispute with China, say China's restrictions on Web access and content are barriers to online commerce, according to the Bloomberg story.

In January Google said that it would no longer agree to censor search results on and threatened to shut down its operations in China after the company said it uncovered evidence the Chinese government might be hacking into Gmail accounts of human rights activists.

Google's accusations have created a diplomatic row between China and the U.S. China has fought back against the accusations, portraying them as part of a conspiracy to restrict China's efforts to protect its national security and interests on the Internet.

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While taking the dispute to the WTO likely would not result in a quick resolution -- such cases can take two years or longer to litigate, the Bloomberg story said -- it would force China to publicly defend its stance on Internet censorship.

On Tuesday U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, criticized U.S. companies that give in to censorship demands from foreign governments. He said he will introduce legislation requiring that U.S. businesses take steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability.

The idea of taking the dispute to the WTO was "well worth considering," said Nicole Wong, Google deputy general counsel, to reporters after a hearing before Durbin's subcommittee.