Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Internet and Freedom, Pt II

Here is an interview with Rep Tom Lantos, who helmed the committee hearings on U.S. Internet companies doing business in China.

Representative Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, makes a strong case against internet companies who have been complicit in enabling the Chinese police state. Here, he talks about the callousness with which the various companies presented themselves during the hearings:

They [the Internet companies] were unprepared to admit to any mistake, to any shame, to any responsibilities for what their behavior had brought. For instance, one of the very simple questions I asked was, have they been in touch with the families of people who, as we speak, are in prison because of their actions. Of course not.

I asked [the internet companies doing business in China] if there is any shame attached to having the prime purveyors of information simultaneously serve as blockages to information in repressive regimes. There was really no decent, honest, candid answer to that. I thought their performance was appalling.
Also, when asked if internet companies are being asked to operate on a double standard, providing the U.S. government here with information upon subpoena while being condemned for doing the same in the Peoples Republic of China, Lantos had this to say:

Oh, I don’t think you can make a comparison here. I think that’s absurd. The U.S. government is not the Chinese government. The Chinese government is an oppressive police state. We are a political democracy.
Read the whole article.

Also, here is an article claiming hypocrisy of a different sort: why condemn just the internet companies while US importers of Chinese manufacturers, whose workers toil in sweat shop conditions, are off the hook? That is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. First of all, the author of this little position statement would have to provide some data on the working conditions found in China; while it is certain that U.S. internet companies have provided information on Chinese citizens leading to their arrests or suppression of speech, the plight of Chinese workers is a subject not in the forefront of Western consciousness at this particular moment. Second, I believe the two issues are unrelated anyway, so there is no hypocrisy involved.

The author linked above compares companies importing from supposed sweat shops in China with companies who are suppressing freedom of speech, or giving information on dissident bloggers using the internet companies' services, which leads to arrests. While the behaviour of both groups is appalling, only one is directly enabling the apparatus of the police state.

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