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Why You & Yahoo Should Like This Human Rights Law 217

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the say-what-you-wanna-say dept.
Regular contributor Bennett Haselton has written in to say that "The Global Online Freedom Act, introduced last year during a firestorm of controversy over American companies cooperating with totalitarian governments in China and elsewhere, was introduced this month as the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007. When Chris Smith (R-NJ) first introduced the law in 2006, Yahoo was under fire for recently turning over information to Chinese authorities that led to the arrest of a political dissident, Microsoft was attacked for removing pages from MSN Spaces China at the behest of the government, Google was being criticized for removing political sites from search results displayed to China, and Cisco was accused of helping to enable Chinese filtering of the Web. All four corporations testified at a February 2006 House hearing during which Representative Tom Lantos summed up the mood of many of his colleagues by telling the companies, "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night." The companies protested that they had no choice but to comply with local Chinese laws, but that they were troubled by their own actions, and -- in a rarity for individual tech companies, much less for a chorus -- they all invited the U.S. government to play a bigger role, while being vague about what the role should be."

GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries" and would in most cases prohibit U.S.-based companies from censoring content or turning over users' information to the governments of those countries. Do these companies want GOFA to pass? And is GOFA a good law? I think, yes and yes, but the answers are more complicated than they seem.

With American "collaboration" less in the news, GOFA made less of a splash when it was re-introduced this year, but it is still the subject of spirited debate. Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups have already signed a statement supporting the July 2006 version of the bill (nearly identical the 2007 version). But blogger-journalist Rebecca MacKinnon argues that by creating a government-maintained list of "Internet censoring countries", the law falls short of calling for support of free speech in all countries (the initial list, for example, includes Iran and China, but leaves out notorious human rights violator and net-censor Saudi Arabia). Danny O'Brien of the EFF backs this position as well, and also argues the organization's long-standing position that "code is speech" and that filtering software should not be subject to export regulations that are proposed in the law.

I agree with MacKinnon that instead of using a list of "Internet restricting countries", we should require the same standards of U.S. companies wherever they do business, or at least, stop playing silly games like leaving Saudi Arabia off of a list of human rights violators because Bush is friends with the ruling family. I agree with the EFF that filtering software should be considered First-Amendment-protected speech like encryption software, and not be included on an export-prohibited "munitions" list. And for reasons listed below, I think that the law won't stop censoring countries from blocking any speech they want. But even with all of these qualifications, I think the law would be a step in the right direction, if only for the rules prohibiting companies from turning over users' personal information to the governments of countries like China and Iran. It's painful to give a pass to countries like Germany that also censor political speech, but I think that the situation is so much worse in places like China that we should do what we can in the short term. And for reasons I'll get into, I think that Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Cisco are secretly hoping that a law like GOFA does get passed -- even if they can't come out and say so.

First, what the law does not do: There is still nothing to stop a U.S. company from blocking or removing legal, political content at the request of a foreign government. Section 204 says only that American content-hosting companies and content-filtering companies have to provide the U.S. government with a list of sites that have been removed or blocked at the behest of a censoring country.

Section 205 does say that U.S. companies may not block or remove sites that are operated by the U.S. government, or by any entity that receives grants from the International Broadcasting Bureau to help defeat foreign censorship. Presumably that would include Peacefire, at least during the periods when we're under contract to the IBB to develop the Circumventor software (but before you start calling me Hallibennett, I'm not working for the IBB right now, and it was my own idea to write this). So the American government, while requiring schools to block us in the U.S., would actually be helping to get us un-blocked in China and Iran! But Section 205 only says that a U.S. business may not block or shut down such sites. As far as I can tell, that means if the Cisco engineer on site in China sets up their routers for them, the Cisco engineer can't put VOANews.com on the block list. But then the Chinese official can walk across the room and add it to the list himself, can't he? Which is almost certainly what they'll do, since the routers are in their country.

So, I think the regulations against Internet blocking will be easy for foreign governments to ignore. But where the law could make a difference is in the prohibition against turning over users' personal data to law enforcement in censoring countries. Section 201 says that servers located in a censoring country cannot contain personally identifiable user information (so that the local police cannot simply storm in and seize the data). Section 202 says that American companies can only turn information over to law enforcement of a censoring country if the information is needed "for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes as determined by the Department of Justice". MacKinnon has criticized this aspect of the law as well -- "If Americans don't want the DOJ to have access to their user information, why should anybody else?" Very true. But, even at the lowest point of public confidence in the Department of Justice, I think most people living outside of fortified compounds stocked with beef jerky and gold bullion, can agree that the U.S. DoJ has more integrity and legitimacy than the government of China, and that such a rule would mean fewer Chinese dissidents going to jail.

What do the affected U.S. companies think of the law? Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco did not respond to requests for comment. A Google PR person replied to say, "We welcome intiatives that expand access to information and protect the rights of users across the globe. At the same time, we remain concerned that legislation in this area can have unintended consequences, so we intend to study any such proposals closely, and work with proponents and others to reach the right outcome." When I replied that the Global Online Freedom Act had been proposed more than a year ago and had been online in its current form since June 2006, presumably enough time to "study such a proposal closely" and take a position on it, he said they would stick with that statement for now. (In his e-mail, he actually put quote marks around the company's statement, which I thought was a nice dry touch.)

But past statements from the respective companies have indicated they would be amenable to such a law. Bill Gates, never one to be shy about criticizing government regulation that he disagreed with, was asked in a February 2006 interview with the London Times, "Should the US government establish guidelines to regulate how internet companies deal with censorship in countries like China?" and answered, "I think something like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been a resounding success in terms of very clearly outlining what companies can't do and other rich countries largely went along with that." At the February 2006 house hearings to discuss American companies' cooperation with overseas censors, representatives from all companies indicated that they actually wanted the government to play a bigger role -- they were vague about what such a role would be, but this was only a month after the first draft of the Global Online Freedom Act had been proposed, the only such law on the table at the time.

At first this might seem paradoxical -- why would companies seem amenable to, even supportive of, laws that would restrict what they can do? But it actually makes sense if you consider their negotiating position with the Chinese government. Currently, the Chinese censors can tell Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google that they either have to either play by the Chinese rules or get out, and the censors know that the companies will comply (without even necessarily feeling guilty about it -- the companies can always say that the Chinese people are better off with a censored version of their services than no access at all).

But if the companies' hands are tied by U.S. law, then they can basically present the Chinese government with a take-it-or-leave-it deal: You can use our e-mail and messenger and blog services, just know that our government won't let us turn over users' personal information if you ever want it. The Chinese censors are presumably coming from the point of view that they'd rather have a controlled Internet, but that it's more important to reap the economic benefits of having the Internet in their country, even if some control is lost (after all, if they didn't believe that, they wouldn't have connected to the Internet in the first place). Hence it's not likely that they'd throw out Yahoo Mail and Google search and MSN Messenger when so many users depend on these and use them for business as well as personal use. (Even if there are Chinese-made alternatives, there would be the huge cost of switching everyone over, and no longer being able to use the old tools to communicate with American companies.) So a law controlling the actions of U.S. companies would very probably allow them to keep doing business in censored countries, while giving them an excuse not to turn over users' data.

But, that might not work if it looks like the companies pushed too hard for the law themselves. If the Chinese see Yahoo fighting tooth and nail to pass a law that restricts what information Yahoo can hand over to China, the Chinese censors could take that as a slap in the face, and punish Yahoo for defying them even after the law is passed that prohibits Yahoo from cooperating. "Oh, you can't give us that information because of the law? This law right here that you lobbied for?"

So, when the general counsel of Yahoo says, "Ultimately, the greatest leverage lies with the U.S. government"; when the Vice President of Google tells Congress, "And certainly also, finally, there is a role for government. We do need your help, and you can help us"; when the associate general counsel of Microsoft testifies, "It is, therefore, the responsibility of governments, with the active leadership of the United States, to seek to reduce or reconcile these differences", I think what we're hearing are subtly encoded messages saying, "Pass this law, or something like it; we just can't look like we wanted it to pass." So, Congress should give them what they want, even if they can't ask for it directly. And at the same time they would be helping users in censored countries all around the world, before the next one gets sent to jail because an American company turned over their information.

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Why You & Yahoo Should Like This Human Rights Law

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  • Grow a pair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by udderly (890305) * on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:01PM (#17829276)

    I think what we're hearing are subtly encoded messages saying, "Pass this law, or something like it; we just can't look like we wanted it to pass." So, Congress should give them what they want, even if they can't ask for it directly.

    Translation: We don't have the balls to stand on principle and we don't want the loss of revenue that would result from getting out of these markets, so we have to be able to say that our gov't made us do it.

    • Re:Grow a pair (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheWoozle (984500) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:18PM (#17829500)
      What country do you live in? When was the last time you heard of Wall Street being bullish on a stock because the company was a champion of human rights?

      In the USA, officers of a company have a legal obligation to not intentionally harm the company's stock value through policy decisions. It's entirely possible that if the company leadership "grew a pair" and the result was being kicked out of China, the stockholders would file suit.

      Capitalism doesn't work the way you suggest. Unless you want to re-write the ground rules to introduce factors other than "what will make us the most money" into the equation, then you're stuck with the current greedy, take-no-prisoners, CYA corporate status quo.
      • by udderly (890305) *
        I couldn't agree more; when one does the right thing it often has very negative consequences.

        • Perhaps, rather than continually applying legal hacks like this, something should be done to address the root problem. If shareholders are the cause of corporate decisions, make them responsible for them as well.
          • by NDPTAL85 (260093)
            So in other words lets completely dismantle our financial system so that we can maintain the moral high ground......while we're all reduced to living in shacks and eating ramen noodles for dinner.
            • Re:Grow a pair (Score:4, Interesting)

              by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @02:04PM (#17830040) Homepage Journal

              Perhaps, rather than continually applying legal hacks like this, something should be done to address the root problem. If shareholders are the cause of corporate decisions, make them responsible for them as well.
              So in other words lets completely dismantle our financial system so that we can maintain the moral high ground......while we're all reduced to living in shacks and eating ramen noodles for dinner.

              So what you're saying is that instituting a policy of responsibility would destroy civilization?

              I think it's the only thing that can save it.

              Just think, if shareholders didn't just share in dividends, but were required to pay money (probably in the form of loss of shares) as part of any financial punishment levied against a corporation for its wrongdoing, they might actually employ some kind of responsibility in their investments! And then, corporations would be forced to be good citizens if they didn't want to scare off every investor!

              Gee, wouldn't that be terrible?

              Nice FUD, twink.

              • by MightyYar (622222)
                This already happens - the shares lose value if the fine is steep enough.

                The problem is that there is no law requiring "good corporate behavior" of this type, so there is no way to fine them. I don't think that many shareholders would advocate violations of US law, but there needs to be a law to violate.
              • You misunderstand how the system works - and is SUPPOSED to work.

                - Incorporation sets up a barrier between corporate debts and the investors' personal resources, so that investors can invest with confidence that nothing more than what they invested is at risk. This barrier may only be "pierced" if the investor and company engaged in a criminal conspiracy and the investment was part of it.

                - Corporate officers are responsible for keeping the corporation running inside the rules and maximizing
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by KlomDark (6370)
              No, simply make them liable for investing in immoral companies. If the immoral company gets shut down, they lose their money. That should be good enough, rather than having to make their liability something like fines or jail time. Just enough of a nudge to make them consider investing in companies that are not into nefarious activity.

              Just a minor change to the law that makes it so companies cannot be sued by shareholders for merely upholding good moral standards: Company gets kicked out of China for refusi
            • by hachete (473378)
              We got rid of slavery and companies still made obscene amounts of money.
        • I have a rule: "Doing something that you know won't work is never the right thing." That is my primary beef with liberals, in fact. If the stuff they proposed had a result that even maintained the status quo, it would be wonderful. The problem is that they "do the right thing," and make things far worse because "doing the right thing" was not realistic.

          If you know that giving your starving brother money will result in him buying drugs instead of food, it is immoral to give him money. Come up with a diff
          • If you know that giving your starving brother money will result in him buying drugs instead of food, it is immoral to give him money.

            Or, perhaps, it will solve the problem of having a starving brother. I mean, if he's so far gone that he'll forgo needed nourishment for his drugs, giving him that last dose may push him over the edge. Problem solved.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Acy James Stapp (1005)
        IANAL

        The board of directors has a fiduciary duty to look after the interests of the corporation. These interests are typically financial but if the corporate charter has goals other than profit, such as "do no evil", the directors can be liable for failing to uphold them.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Irish_Samurai (224931)
          Finally, another voice who recognizes what a board really is legally bound to do. There is no law stating that officers of a public company have to maximize profits. They have a legal responsibility to act in the manner directed to them by the majority of voting shareholders. As you stated, this is most often a directive of "maximize profits", but not always.

          Every time someone states that Milton Friedman quote as a law, the trader loses his license.
          • They have a legal responsibility to act in the manner directed to them by the majority of voting shareholders

            That is actually incorrect.

            Directors must act in the best interests of the company as a whole. They are in some circumstances actually in breach of their duties if they act according to the will of the majority but to the detriment of the minority of shareholders, or to the detriment of the company as an independent entity. To act blindly according to directions of the majority would (depending on the nature of the decision) amount to an impermissible fettering of discretion. This is one of the reasons

        • by Wateshay (122749)
          Additionally, corporate officers only open themselves up to personal liability from a shareholder suit in cases of gross negligence of their fiduciary duty. Really, unless the officer personally profited from an action that had a negative impact on the company he was charged with running (and he had reasonable reason to know that would be the outcome), it's highly unlikely that the shareholders would bring suit against him and even less likely that they would win if they did. Of course, the shareholders c
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ajs (35943)

        In the USA, officers of a company have a legal obligation to not intentionally harm the company's stock value through policy decisions. It's entirely possible that if the company leadership "grew a pair" and the result was being kicked out of China, the stockholders would file suit.

        Show me the law.

        There is, to my knowledge, no such law. What officers of a company have is a fiduciary duty [wikipedia.org] to increase stockholder value according to the terms of the stockholder's purchase of stock. This includes, and is almos

        • by StikyPad (445176)
          (Cisco is probably responsible for far more arrests than Yahoo!, but they don't get the same bad press because you can't point to specific instances where their monitoring tools have identified activists).

          That's ridiculous. Creating a tool does not make the manufacturer liable for its misuse. But even if it did, it's a bit of a double standard to condemn them for providing tools used by a non-ally government to do the same things our own government is allegedly doing. Congress should be reinforcing prote
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, capitalism is entirely neutral.

        The officers of a company are not obligated to worry about stock values. They are obligated to act in the interest of the stockholders. If the stockholders value stock value above all else, then the officers of the company must act in a way which maximizes stock value. However, stockholders may hold core ethical values (e.g. environmentalism) above profit, in which case the officers of the company must act accordingly.

        Yes, on the surface, it looks like capitalism fav
      • by gfxguy (98788)
        Actually, at a shareholder meeting, someone could (or should) introduce a new or amended charter that forbids the company from negotiating with entities known to have violated human rights.

        That section would be a small paragraph out of a larger document that defined the goals of the company. I wouldn't be surprised if the stock holders voted for it.

      • The problem here is that there has been a huge divide between "legal" and "moral" responsibility, because we cannot legislate "morality" because of the left wingers view of what right wingers want in regards to "morality". This is the unintended consequence of this liberal mindset.

        For those on the left and right, it is a moral dilemma of huge proportions. The left doesn't want to legislate morality because they want free sex, porn on every corner, and unfettered access to abortion. The right doesn't want mo
      • Don't blame it on "Capitalism". The stock exchange and it's rules are set by the SEC, not by the free market.
      • by SeaFox (739806)

        In the USA, officers of a company have a legal obligation to not intentionally harm the company's stock value through policy decisions. It's entirely possible that if the company leadership "grew a pair" and the result was being kicked out of China, the stockholders would file suit.

        The executive's responsibility to keep the company profitable does not supersede human ethics. I love how this argument gets dragged out every time a company gets in hot water over aiding the Chinese, ect. Making money is not th

    • Corporations know that unless the government regulates the market with universal requirements, some competitors will seek the appearance of short-term (and illusory long-term) gain, despite the good reasons (business and ethical) to prop up tyrannies. Those who want to do the right thing but can't afford to fail to compete with those who will do the wrong thing need the government to level the playing field.

      It takes balls for corporations to ask the government to regulate them, rather than the absolutely st
    • by iiioxx (610652)

      Translation: We don't have the balls to stand on principle and we don't want the loss of revenue that would result from getting out of these markets, so we have to be able to say that our gov't made us do it.

      More accurate translation: Make it so that all U.S. companies are forced to play by the same rules, so that the companies that opt to support human rights don't lose revenue to the companies that opt not to.

    • Translation: We don't have the balls to stand on principle and we don't want the loss of revenue that would result from getting out of these markets, so we have to be able to say that our gov't made us do it.

      slashdot never fails to amaze me in terms of finding out there is always somebody who is capable of climbing to an even higher moral highground, no matter where the rest of the world stand.

      Maybe the author is simply speculating on what those companies are thinking, but wouldn't this still be a lot be

    • So where should we draw the line?

      If these companies didn't do what they did China would just block all of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo.... From their country so the people will be left with Less Information then they would now, Also many of these American Companies wouldn't have the extra buisness.

      What about in other countries that say the companies need to block "Bad Things", in which many I do personally find distaistful, Such as Racism, Sexuality, Violance,... Companies are woring on the Gray Line of what
  • Uhhuh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TodMinuit (1026042) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <tiunimdot>> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:06PM (#17829328)
    I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.

    Ambien

    The companies protested that they had no choice but to comply with local Chinese laws, but that they were troubled by their own actions

    Until they got the check and the good PR.

    And is GOFA a good law?

    No it's not. Such a law won't stop anything from happen, it'll merely move it out of the hands of US companies. I don't think that's a good thing.
    • Re:Uhhuh (Score:4, Interesting)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:30PM (#17829642) Homepage Journal

      No it's not. Such a law won't stop anything from happen, it'll merely move it out of the hands of US companies. I don't think that's a good thing.
      Right, but then companies will have no choice but take a 'take-it-or-leave-it stance' with the Chinese government. It's a game of 'good cop/bad cop'. When the Chinese government comes in and says, "give me your subscriber list", the companies can now pass the buck, point a thumb back at Uncle Sam and say, "Huh, sorry, you'll have to take that up with them. In the meantime, the only other thing we can do is stop providing services in your country."

      • Especially since the companies all have contracts with China now. If they decided to stop providing service, they are hit with penalty clauses - not to mention the black eye that breaking a contract would give them.

        But all contracts have a "separability clause" that says that anything in the contract that violates the law is automatically declared void without effecting the rest of the contract. So the contract payments et al remain in effect, while the agreement to be evil goes away.

        Ingenious, really.
        • But all contracts have a "separability clause" that says that anything in the contract that violates the law is automatically declared void without effecting the rest of the contract. So the contract payments et al remain in effect, while the agreement to be evil goes away.

          Ingenious, really.
          That's true of U.S. contract law, but I'm not sure what China's contract laws are like. Anyone know?
    • I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.
      • Ambien

      I thought they slept on big piles of money.

  • by xtal (49134) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:07PM (#17829338)
    ..and refuse permission to export to countries that don't respect civil rights. There. Even playing field.

    This is a joke; they're all hypocrites, they all worship the almighty dollar over human liberty. Every company listed literally is falling over themselves to access new markets.

    If you want to trade with countries like this, at least have the balls to owe up to what you're doing. You obviously don't feel THAT bad. I'm sure someone rotting away in jail because of your reporting feels much worse.
    • by Fex303 (557896)

      Every company listed literally is falling over themselves to access new markets.

      Literally? How does an intangible company literally fall over? I think you might mean figuratively.

      Sorry to be a pedant, but people do this all the time now and it's been starting to (figuratively) get my goat. 'Literal' has a specific meaning, and when people start using it when the opposite is the case, it just becomes pointless.

      I'm sure someone will say that 'literally' is today being used to simple provide emphasis, whic

  • GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries"
    • United States
    • China
    • Korea
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by udderly (890305) *
      Also:

      • Saudi Arabia
      • Germany
      • Cuba
      • Singapore
    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Korea

      Korea... let me guess, you're american?


    • GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries"

      * United States
      * China
      * Korea


      There's no such country now as "Korea", so I argue that this doesn't meet the qualification to be modded insightful . The original poster should explain whether he means the DPRNK (Democratic People's Republic of North Korea), the ROK (Republic Of Korea - that is, South Korea) or both.
  • by N8F8 (4562)
    When in Rome....

    When in China...

    You basically have three choices:

    1) Ignore the market and leave it to the competition if there is any.

    2) Conform to the local rules to gain invaluable early adopters and possibly change things once you are in a position with leveredge.

    3) Try to bend the market to your will. Call this the confrontational approach.

    Of the three I'd submit that #2 has the best chance of success in the long term.

    • by vertinox (846076)
      When in Rome....

      Act like a Visigoth and burn it down? ;)

      Seriously, sometimes you can act like a barbarian and force your way in with the correct leverage battering ram. As you know the RIAA/MPAA has no qualms getting the DoJ and various other governmental agencies put pressure on Chinese authorities to comply with copyrights.

      Why can't other businesses do the same with more altruistic purposes?

      Sadly, maybe human rights doesn't earn stock holders or lobbyists enough money?
      • by N8F8 (4562)

        put pressure on Chinese authorities to comply with copyrights.
        You are kidding me right? You ever been to China? Asia? Mexico? The US is the only place where you can buy legal copies of any given software/music/video at the corner market.
    • #1b - Come up with a criteria for what a minimally moral (by our definition) government is, and prohibit companies that interact with them from selling products in your country. The bill of rights is a good conversation starter.

      I like this better as it puts civil rights in the hands of people, not corporations or governments. Somewhere in history this was shown to be better for us.
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@NosPAm.optonline.net> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:15PM (#17829468) Journal

    But if the companies' hands are tied by U.S. law, then they can basically present the Chinese government with a take-it-or-leave-it deal: You can use our e-mail and messenger and blog services, just know that our government won't let us turn over users' personal information if you ever want it. The Chinese censors are presumably coming from the point of view that they'd rather have a controlled Internet, but that it's more important to reap the economic benefits of having the Internet in their country, even if some control is lost (after all, if they didn't believe that, they wouldn't have connected to the Internet in the first place). Hence it's not likely that they'd throw out Yahoo Mail and Google search and MSN Messenger when so many users depend on these and use them for business as well as personal use. (Even if there are Chinese-made alternatives, there would be the huge cost of switching everyone over, and no longer being able to use the old tools to communicate with American companies.) So a law controlling the actions of U.S. companies would very probably allow them to keep doing business in censored countries, while giving them an excuse not to turn over users' data.

    At which point the Chinese government will erect the Great Firewall of China (adding in their buddy North Korea for good measure), and then force their citizens to use government-sponsored computers, routers, network connections, mail clients, etc. And then Chinese censors will be able to have the data anytime they want it. China has all the capability needed to do this, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)
      Will such an initiative necessarily improve the quality of life for, say, Chinese citizens? Nope. But it will ensure that American companies aren't profiting off their suppression and murder. Also, China is not exactly at the forefront of technology, you may have noticed. It's not that they don't make substantial contributions but they are typically not at the head of the class. They can only get best-of-breed technology by buying it. I theorize that their treatment of their citizens has a chilling effect o
      • by Billosaur (927319) *

        But I suspect they would have enough technical acumen (accumulated and stolen) to cut off/severely limit traffic from the outside and impose their will on their own people. After all, even if their technology is not top-of-the-line, as long as they mandate its use, it will be top-of-the-line for China. Given no access vs. government-sponsored access, I think the Chinese would be pragmatic about it. However, as now, there would be a dissident community inside China trying to break through the restrictions.

    • by pluther (647209)

      At which point the Chinese government will erect the Great Firewall of China (adding in their buddy North Korea for good measure), and then force their citizens to use government-sponsored computers, routers, network connections, mail clients, etc. And then Chinese censors will be able to have the data anytime they want it. China has all the capability needed to do this, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

      I highly doubt that they could actually do that.

      If they had that capability, they wouldn't

  • by skiingyac (262641) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:16PM (#17829472)
    FTB:

    The term "substantial restrictions on Internet freedom" means actions that restrict or punish the free availability of information via the Internet for reasons other than legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes
    So does this mean that when the MPAA/RIAA tell country X to block something even though none of country X's laws say they have to (in this case foreign refers to country X not the USA), that said country is restricting Internet Freedom?
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:18PM (#17829502)

    "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."
    They sleep on top of a pile of money with many beautiful women.
  • I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BrianRoach (614397) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:18PM (#17829504)

    Ok ... someone please elxplain, because I don't get it.

    Doing internet business in communist and other countries which have oppressive regimes and following their local laws rather than US law (free speech, censorship, etc) is bad.

    Pouring billions of dollars into their economy via manufacturing and giving them "preferred trading status" while following their local laws rather than US law (wage minimums, working conditions, etc) is good (See: China).

    Makes perfect sense if you're a politician I suppose.

    - Roach
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by skiingyac (262641)
      You're confused?

      1) We spend billions of dollars and kill millions to fight terrorism and oppressive dictators in various countries, "because its the right thing".

      2) We make drugs illegal and drug dealers import them from said countries instead of growing them here & taxing the crap out of them, and we manufacture billions of $$ of weapons and when they're not top-of-the-line anymore or we just have too many, we sell them to random places and they end up in the same said countries. I'd imagine all that
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rawb (529039)
      I'm not confused at all. Both US parties, for the most part, support free speech at least enough to give lip service to it. Championing that globally is "American".

      Half of America doesnt believe in the minimum wage or government oversight on business at all. So it's no surprise at all that we don't champion those rights abroad.

      Hell, America was one of the biggest impediments (and still is) to including social issues like wages and access to services in the universal declaration of human rights.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kelz (611260)
      Here the question becomes: Does China need US (no pun intended) more than WE need THEM?
    • Working conditions and minimum wage are subject to differing standards while freedom of speech is considered a sacrosanct right. Only at certain levels are standards connected to human rights, but reality dictates that if a country is only at a certain level of economic development you can only expect a certain standard of work conditions for example. I would argue that these are still things that are within the US government's power to regulate, and probably should
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BrianRoach (614397)
        "Only at certain levels are standards connected to human rights, but reality dictates that if a country is only at a certain level of economic development you can only expect a certain standard of work conditions for example. "

        If that's the case why isn't the same assumption made regarding rights?

        You're saying we assume that a developing nation won't have our standards for work conditions, etc ... but they should have our standards when it comes to things like our standards for speech and expression. That d
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mike1024 (184871)
      Ok ... someone please elxplain, because I don't get it. [...] Doing internet business in communist and other countries [...] is bad. [...] Pouring billions of dollars into their economy via manufacturing [...] is good (See: China).

      I think the idea is doing business in oppressive countries isn't intrinsically bad, but actually acting to help with the oppression [bbc.co.uk] is bad.

      To use an emotive example, if I sold a million dollars worth of paper clips to nazi germany, that would be OK, but if I sold a million dollars
      • I understand your view, but the distinction you're drawing is a bit gray, IMHO.

        Is it not "acting to help with the oppression" by using (and profiting) from sweat-shop labor without any action (or even interest) toward insisting that the conditions be improved? I don't see this as any different from the issue at hand (IT companies operating under local law).

        I just don't buy the whole "dump buckets of money on them and suddenly they'll convert to capitalism" theory. I'm more of a realist that thinks the momen
  • the game (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rolyatknarf (973068) *
    So these companies get the US government to prevent them from handing over information to a foreign government. Then, when that foreign government wants to track down a violator of their rules these companies get to play the:

    Same Lame Blame Game

    "There is nothing we can do to help you because our US government prevents us from doing that". Now their ass is covered and someone takes the heat for them. They want to take no risk or responsibility. Nothing new about this. Profit without liability.
  • Authoritarian foreign governments such as the Governments of Belarus, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, North Korea, the People's Republic of China, Tunisia, Vietnam, and The United States block, restrict, and monitor the information their citizens try to obtain.

    There, fixed that for ya.
  • So calling yourself a democracy really make you better than a totalitarian government? Maybe there should be a set of items against which a government should be checked against. I know of a country or two where the majority of citizens do not like what their supposedly democratic government does...but the government still does it. So if you're going to use business and technology to play politics, one may should at least make the rules fair and transparent: I don't think just wagging your finger at China is
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by skiingyac (262641)
      I was at a conference a few months ago and had lunch with someone from Iran. He talked about how he was unhappy with how Iran's president was pissing off the rest of the world, etc. He said he voted for him, but he likened the election to being given a choice between two spoons, clean ones which he took from the table and held up. Maybe one is a little shinier, but they're both spoons. And he lamented how people guessed wrong and they are now stuck with some crazy guy for 4 years.

      I've not been able to v
    • by planetmn (724378)
      I know of a country or two where the majority of citizens do not like what their supposedly democratic government does

      I'm assuming this is supposed to be an attack on the US. If it is, you do realize that the constitution and our government was actually set up so that majority rule wasn't how everything was handled. There are a lot of ways that our government works to protect the rights of the minority over the opposition of the majority. So just because greater than 50% of constituents think it's bad po
  • by moeinvt (851793) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @01:30PM (#17829650)
    What a bunch of elitist jackasses we have in the halls of Congress!

    They start bloody military conflicts where thousands are killed and maimed, trample on The Constitution, run up $8 trillion in national debt for future generations to pay off, etc. etc. and then have the AUDACITY to suggest that some corporate execs should be overwhelmed with guilt about filtering search results and shutting down web pages?
    • by forand (530402) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @03:04PM (#17830844) Homepage
      So you are one of those that thinks because I do something wrong I can't see you doing something wrong? This is such a bunch of crap. If Charles Manson was the first to come out and say that Enron was a dirty company with horrible financial records would it make it less true? Politicians are in the business of standing behind curtains making bad deals and telling us all how to live. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don't lets hold them accountable for their actions but if they get something right we shouldn't throw it out because they are bad people.
      • by moeinvt (851793)
        "So you are one of those that thinks because I do something wrong I can't see you doing something wrong?"

        Certainly not in principle.

        I won't go into the Yahoo! case, because, as one other post correctly pointed out, it shouldn't even be in the same category as the others. Let's focus on the actions of Google (since we couldn't get a fair trial for MS here). I'm not willing to concede that they actually did something "wrong" in their dealings with China, but for the sake of argument, I'll pretend it was som
  • Do the US Representatives and Senators that passed this law remember that they also passed laws banning certain content on the Internet? I realize that blocking child pornography and blocking political speech are two different things, but it is still censorship.

    Nick
    • For those who live in the U.S.:

      You can get your 5+4 ZIP Code:
      http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/ [usps.com]

      And then find those who work for you in D.C. and your State capital:
      http://www.congressweb.com/ [congressweb.com]

      Cheers,
      Tony
    • Do the US Representatives and Senators that passed this law remember that they also passed laws banning certain content on the Internet? I realize that blocking child pornography and blocking political speech are two different things, but it is still censorship.

      And...?

      You can't just label something and go "case rested." If you do realize blocking child pornography and blocking political speech are two different things, then you should also realize that not all kinds of "censorship" are bad, otherwise y

  • Longest.... summary... ever!
  • Wouldn't the U.S. (and just about every country in the world) also end up on this list of internet restricting countries. Between pending regulations on political/lobbying activities on the internet, CAN-SPAM, hate speech, civil penalties for NSFW images in the workplace, filtering for libraries, kiddie porn laws, online gambling laws, USA Patriot law, DMCA, etc., one could argue that the U.S. heavily restricts activities on the internet too.

    I deploy China's censorship as much as the next guy, and would
    • The Declaration of Independence states that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, that all (not some, not Americans, not just rich white men in a specific cultural context) have inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In our Constitution, we enumerate some of man's "liberty" rights, foremost among them the Freedom of Speech. This doesn't carry legal weight in China or Saudi Arabia, but it should be our conscience when dealing with them.

      Our forefathers believed that all men on t
      • by KDR_11k (778916)
        Life and liberty can be taken by the law (death penalty and jail time, respectively), why would freedom of speech be any different?
        • by halivar (535827)
          I'm not saying freedom of speech should be inviolable; I don't think child pornography should be a part of our country's "free speech," so I do think that there are instances where freedom of speech can and should be regulated by law. What I'm saying is that restricting speech is one of the gravest things a government can do, and should by default be considered a crime against society unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary (like the aforementioned child pornography example). I say we treat it
  • One obvious problem: "restricting" versus "not restricting" isn't a brightly-defined binary choice. Many European countries, for example, have laws prohibiting Holocaust denial, and require ISPs to take down or block access to neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial sites. But they're a far cry from, say, China. The proposed legislation doesn't deal well with that distinction....
  • I realize that there are some thorny issues here of business and politics, but take a moment and read the statement of purpose from this bill: "It shall be the policy of the United States ... to promote as a fundamental component of United States foreign policy the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers;" The rest of the world ca
  • It isn't because of Saudi Arabia -- it's because of the U.S.

    GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries" and would in most cases prohibit U.S.-based companies from censoring content or turning over users' information to the governments of those countries.

    (emphasis added)

    Think about it -- a law which says a company isn't allowed to keep personally identifiable information, and isn't allowed to give it to the government ... yet, we have the attorney general trying

  • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@NosPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @02:59PM (#17830784) Homepage
    I have to say that I'm extremely exasperated by the complaints against google for censoring their content. Yes, censorship is bad but it really pisses me off when people blame a company just for being tangled up in some unpalatable area even if their actions are a net benefit. The, quite compelling, justification that google gave for engaging in censorship was that if they didn't do it the Chinese would have access to even less information and that more censor friendly companies would take over.

    This law still presents the danger of similar bad consequences. To the extent that foreign companies can still censor material we may see companies like Google who reluctantly censor material at government request replaced with foreign companies eager to please censoring government to curry favor. The net effect of this might be to create a second economy in censor friendly IT information. The last thing we want is to have a Chinese company position itself as a more censor-friendly alternative to google to all the oppressive regimes around the world.

    So I'm unsure about the goodness of this bill. It may be on net positive or it may not.

    What I would surely support would be an international treaty, signed by as many free societies as possible, that agrees to impose penalties on ANY company that colludes with government censorship. If the Chinese alternative to google can't avail itself of EU/US financial markets, get ad money from companies operating in these environments or otherwise access the free world it would prevent a censor friendly company from rising to offer an alternative to the free speech friendly services. Even better it would provide the best kind of pressure, internal demands by corporations who want to make money, on places like China to relax their censoring laws so their companies can compete in the world market.

    Not to mention the fact that an international treaty like this would be more resistant to things like the US-Saudi friendship.
  • by element-o.p. (939033) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @03:27PM (#17831144) Homepage
    Not to be a troll, but it's not these companies but rather the U.S. politicians that should have trouble sleeping at night! From the summary:

    ...Yahoo was under fire for recently turning over information to Chinese authorities that led to the arrest of a political dissident...Representative Tom Lantos summed up the mood of many of his colleagues by telling the companies, "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."

    Meanwhile, AT&T is turning over phone records to our fricken' government without either a warrant or a subpeona, legislation like the Patriot Act and CALEA is trampling over 200 years of civil rights, and detainees are rotting in Guantanamo Bay while Alberto Gonzales is saying that there is no guaranteed right to habeas corpus in the Constitution.

    Give me a break--it must take some serious cojones to point the finger at China while doing as much as possible to emulate them right here in the good ole U.S. of A. <shakes head in disgust>
  • In Illinois... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Al Dimond (792444) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @04:10PM (#17831800) Journal
    I grew up in the state of Illinois. In Illinois it is illegal for car dealerships to be open on Sundays.

    This is not the case for other businesses. Most businesses in Illinois are open on Sunday; of course, they don't have to be open any day, and some business owners choose to keep their stores closed on Sunday.

    But car dealerships must stay closed. I've been told that the dealerships all got together and asked the state legislature to pass a law enforcing this. Why would they ask for a law restricting their behavior? Probably because they wanted Sundays off, and knew that if other dealers opened on Sunday they'd have to open as well to stay competitive. If the law was removed and a single dealership in an area opened on Sunday it would only be a matter of time before they all opened. So the net result of the law is bad for working consumers looking to buy cars, who now have only one day out of their weekend to do it.

    Tech companies' support of this law is exactly the same. They want to be protected against companies that would gladly do things that they don't want to do. But the net result of the law from the perspective of the government passing it, less choices for censoring governments, is probably a net positive for people in those countries (at least as our government sees it). It won't work totally; in fact, it might wind up like Illinois' ban on fireworks sales, leading to giant fireworks stores right across the Indiana and Wisconsin borders, totally outside the state's legislative arm.
  • by RexRhino (769423) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @05:54PM (#17833766)
    Yes, only when the U.S. government has absolute power to dictate the actions of companies, even outside the U.S., including punishing them for actions that are legal both countries, can this scourge of overzealous government control be ended!

    The key to fighting totalitarianism, is to give the government totalitarian control so it can fight totalitarianism!
  • But where the law could make a difference is in the prohibition against turning over users' personal data to law enforcement in censoring countries. Section 201 says that servers located in a censoring country cannot contain personally identifiable user information (so that the local police cannot simply storm in and seize the data).

    Working for a company that is doing business online, and is entering the Chinese market, I can confirm that China has laws that prohibits personal information on their citizens
  • When an American company does business in another country, why shouldn't they obey the laws of that country?

    That is, why would the US Congress get to say "ignore these laws that we don't like in China"

    It's not our place to impose our views on another country!
  • Big companies sometimes really do want to be "made" to do the right thing [texttechnologies.com], so that they can do it in lockstep without losing competitively to their less scrupulous rivals. Whether it's bribery or pollution or safety or censorship -- whether the motivation is simple economics or avoiding later political backlash or actual morality -- it's happening more and more.

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