Supporting Internet Censorship

 US multi-nationals support repressive censorship



29th October
2008
  

Update: Googling for Human Rights...

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Multinational computer companies unveil initiative to better support human rights

Google China logo Congressman Howard L. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the unveiling of the Global Network Initiative by a diverse group of information and communication companies and human rights organizations.

The initiative recognizes that all companies have a responsibility to protect against human rights violations, especially by authoritarian governments like China, Iran and the UK.

It's about time, Berman said: This initiative is an important, yet only a first step in better protecting freedoms of expression and privacy.

Technology companies and human rights groups that join the initiative agree to abide by a set of operating principles that are based upon internationally recognized human rights standards.

Under the agreement, participating companies would face yearly reviews to ensure that they are advancing rights of expression and privacy in their business operations. Members of the initiative intend to make the program a standard for companies around the world.

 

26th June
2009
  

Update: No Safe Harbour in India...


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Google India in legal challenge over responsibility for posts on the Blogger service

Blogger.com logoGoogle India found itself in legal hot water over blog posts that included accusations against a prominent Indian doctor. Although the posts have since been pulled down, the company is trying to appeal a court decision that went against it by claiming it has no control over content on Blogger.

In the US, ISPs and companies that provide hosting services have a degree of protection from being held legally responsible for the actions of their users. These safe harbor provisions don't exist in the legal codes of other countries, however, leaving the local branches of US companies at risk of legal action. Google India found itself in precisely this situation, as it was the target of legal action by an Indian cardiologist Dr. Ashwin Mehta who claims he was defamed by posts hosted on Google's Blogger service. The Indian branch of the search giant is trying to defend itself from these charges by claiming that it has nothing to do with the US-based blogger service.

Mehata won his first round in court, and the posts have since vanished from Blogger. Nevertheless, Google India appealed the verdict, and got to make its first arguments in court . It appears that Google India's lawyers are trying out two arguments. The first of these is simply claiming that policing content on Blogger is practically impossible, given that it fields 2.5 million words a minute. The other is that Google India has essentially nothing to do with the Blogger service, which is run from servers residing in the US. In essence, any issue regarding the contents of a post hosted there is governed by the service agreement between Blogger and the individual user, which Google India isn't a party to.

 

17th January
2010
  

Updated: Google Hacked Off...

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Google set to quit China after attempts to hack into Chinese human rights activists' emails

Google China logoGoogle announced in their Official Google Blog:

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident--albeit a significant one--was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers.

We have already used information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online. You can read more here about our cyber-security recommendations. People wanting to learn more about these kinds of attacks can read this U.S. government report (PDF), Nart Villeneuve's blog and this presentation on the GhostNet spying incident.

We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

Posted by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer

Update: Tank Man finally appears on Chinese Google

17th January 2010. Based on article from canadafreepress.com

Tank ManUsers on Google.cn's image search can now see the iconic picture of Tank Man, among other images from the massacre in the Beijing square in 1989.

Students and intellectuals protested communist rule for seven weeks in the square in 1989 in the face of a brutal security crackdown. Roughly 100,000 people are believed to have taken part in the protests - with up to 3,000 of those killed during the demonstrations.

Tank Man: One of the most iconic images of the Tiananmen Square massacre, that of a man standing alone and defenceless in a face off against four tanks, now appears on Google.cn

Update: Google Censor On

18th February 2010 Based on article from shuttervoice.com

Google will censor pornography and some other objectionable content in China as the search engine continues to try and make head way in the Internet market.

It is claimed that the company's co-founder, Sergey Brin, has admitted that pornography and other objectionable content will be censored.

However, he reportedly confirmed that Google will not politically censor searches in the Asian country.

 

22nd January
2010
  

Update: Justified Criticism...

Hilary Clinton criticised Chinese internet censorship

Hillary Uncensored Internet Enabled President China said remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticizing China's censorship of the Internet were unjustified and damaged bilateral ties.

In a speech in Washington, Clinton called on U.S. technology companies to resist censorship of the Internet and said perpetrators of cyber attacks such as those who targeted Google Inc. must face consequences. Clinton also said China's Internet controls could harm the Asian nation's development.

We are firmly opposed to these words and deeds which are against the facts and damage Sino-U.S. relations, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a Chinese-language statement posted on the ministry's Web site. We urge the U.S. side to respect facts and stop using the issue of so-called Internet freedom to make unjustified attacks on China.

Clinton's long-planned address on Internet freedom laid out the Obama administration's view of an uncensored global Internet where everyone has access to the same information, and governments and corporations don't block knowledge or steal intellectual property.

Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation, Clinton said. In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation's network can be an attack on all.

Clinton compared firewalls that governments in China, Uzbekistan, Tunisia and elsewhere have erected to keep out information to the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain that divided the West and the Soviet Union's sphere of influence during the Cold War.

Virtual walls are cropping up in place of visible walls, she said. With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world.

Google issued a statement praising Clinton's remarks. The company said it believes in unfettered access to information and will continue work with governments, human rights organizations and bloggers to promote free expression.

 

7th March
2010
  

Update: Searching for Repression...

And finding it at Middle East Bing

Bing logo A new report has now revealed that Microsoft censors its Bing search engine returns in Arab countries even more heavily than the countries themselves do using national Internet filters.

The study covered the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Algeria, and Jordan, and found heavy censorship of anything relating to sex.

It is interesting that Microsoft's implementation of this type of wholesale social content censorship for the entire Arabian countries region is in fact not being practiced by many of the Arab government censors themselves, reads a new report from the Open Net Initiative (ONI). It adds: It is unclear, however, whether Bing's keyword filtering in the Arab countries is an initiative from Microsoft, or whether any or all of the Arab states have asked Microsoft to comply with local censorship practices or laws.

ONI performed the study by testing the search terms inside the countries. Banned words include sex, intercourse, breast, nude, and many more in both the English and Arabic language.

When someone attempts to search most sex-related terms, Bing informs searchers: Your country or region requires a strict Bing SafeSearch setting, which filters out results that might contain adult content.

 

31st March
2010
  

Comment: Tank Man Returns to China...

Tiananmen Square massacre links appear on Google's search engine in China

Tank Man Google's Chinese search engine was defying local law by returning links involving the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the Xinjiang independence movement, according to a report from NBC News.

NBC was able to access previously-censored links from Google.cn, including the famous 1989 image of a lone man blocking a line of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square. A search for tank man in Chinese characters on the search engine returned just one link to the photo - though several are available from the company's engine overseas.

Meanwhile, searching for Tiananmen Square massacre , Xinjiang independence and Tibet Information Network turned up long lists of previously censored results.

NBC did say, however, that search results were erratic and that in some cases, access to verboten sites was indeed denied.

Update: Google to Make Rapid Departure from China

21st March 2010. Based on article from telegraph.co.uk

Google China logo Google is expected to announce the closure of google.cn by as early as April 10 after the Chinese government refused to acquiesce to demands that it stop self-censorship of the site.

It is understood that Google will continue to operate other services in the country and will maintain its research and development operations.

It is understood that Sergey Brin, who founded Google with Larry Page while the pair were students at Stanford University, has been personally involved with the investigation into gmail attacks and the decision to withdraw from China.

Reports from China said Google will compensate the division's employees following the closure.

Update: China whinge at Google for highlighting Chinese censorship

24th March 2010. Based on article from business.timesonline.co.uk

China flag China hit back at Google last night after the internet search giant closed its flagship Chinese site, carrying out a threat issued two months ago in a dispute over censorship.

The company stopped censoring its search results in China and redirected users of the Google.cn service to its uncensored Google.com.hk site based in Hong Kong. The White House, which had backed Google in its dispute, expressed disappointment that an American company felt compelled to take such a drastic step.

Beijing isssued a furious riposte to Google, accusing it of violating the terms of the agreement it made when it opened its self-censored Chinese search engine in 2006. An official in charge of the Internet Bureau of the State Council Information Office said: This is totally wrong. We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicisation of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.

The world's largest internet company has been in talks for two months with Beijing over its threat to shut down its Chinese-language search engine and close its offices, rather than kowtow to government censors. It delivered the ultimatum after alleged cyber attacks aimed at its source code and at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The company said the attacks originated in China.

Offsite: Google Explain

31st March 2010. Based on article from  facthai.wordpress.com

Google China logo From an interview with David Drummond of Google.

Although we have gained market share, it has become more and more difficult for us to operate there. Particularly when it comes to censorship. We have had to censor more. More and more pressure has been put on us. It has gotten appreciably worse and not just for us, for other internet companies too.

So we increasingly came to feel that the original premise of our entry into China was being undermined. We thought when we went in that we could help to open the country and things could get better by our being there. Things seemed to be getting worse.

And what happens now?

We don't know what to expect. We have done what we have done. We are fully complying with Chinese law. We're not operating our search engine within the Firewall any more. We will continue to talk with them about how to operate our other services.

...Read the full article

 

1st July
2010
  

Update: Searching for Compromise...

Google close to clicking on a link out of China

Google China logoGoogle has announced a new approach in its ongoing battle with China over censorship.

Until recently, the firm automatically redirected Chinese users to its unfiltered search site in Hong Kong to get round censorship issues.

Google has said it will now stop this after Beijing warned it could lose its licence to operate in the country. Instead, Chinese users will be sent to a landing page . Clicking anywhere on it sends them to the Hong Kong site.

Google said it was hopeful that this subtle change - where users have to actively click on a link to access unfiltered search results rather than being automatically redirected - would allow it to continue operating in China.

Chinese law demands that companies use web servers based in China.

However, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said there was no guarantee the Chinese authorities would accept the new arrangement.

Google announced the changes one day before its Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence - necessary to operate in the country - was due to expire.

 

10th July
2010
  

Update: Searching for a Licence...

Google opts in for uncensored searched but users are still opted out

Google China logoThe Chinese government has renewed Google's licence to operate in China, the internet giant has said, ending a long-running stand-off between the two.

There had been speculation China would revoke the licence after Google began redirecting Chinese users to its unfiltered search site in Hong Kong. Instead, Chinese users would be sent to a landing page , which would send them to the Hong Kong site.

But the Chinese government has made sure that its citizens cannot receive unfiltered search results because searches have to pass back from Hong Kong through the firewall where sensitive material can be removed.

We are very pleased that the government has renewed our ICP (internet content provider) licence and we look forward to continuing to provide web search and local products to our users in China, Google's lawyer David Drummond said in an e-mailed statement.

 

9th September
2010
  

Update: Trade War in Internet Filters...

Google boss likens internet filtering to a trade barrier

Google logoGoogle's legal chief has called for pressure on governments that censor the Internet, such as China and Turkey, arguing that their blocking access to websites unfairly restrains U.S. businesses and would be unacceptable in physical trade.

David Drummond said: If this (Internet censorship) were happening with physical trade and manufacturing goods, we'd all be saying this violates trade agreements pretty fundamentally.

In our view at Google it's high time for us to start really sinking our teeth into this one, said Drummond. We have great opportunities now with pending trade agreements to start putting some pressure on countries to recognize that Internet freedom not only is a core value -- that we should be holding them to account from a human rights standpoint -- but also that if you want to be part of the community of free trade, you are going to have to find a way to allow the Internet to be open.

 

1st May
2011
  

Update: Pots of Money for Black Kettles...

US allocates funds to help the repressed world to work around internet censorship

us dept of state logoThe US State Department is to provide $28 million in grants to help activists thwart internet censorship in repressive countries,.

The recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East and Africa has highlighted young people's use of Twitter, Facebook, and Google to organize protests and government opposition, as well as governments' willingness to cut off those services and even shut down all access to the web.

The U.S. has also criticized China for its Great Firewall, which broadly limits citizens' access to internet news and information.

It was not immediately clear which countries would receive the grants or how they would be administered, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried internet crackdowns in Iran and Syria in a recent speech on Internet freedoms.

Republicans have criticized the program as wasteful in a time of government austerity.

 

30th August
2011
  

Offsite: Profit above Humanity?...

Victims of Chinese censorship sue Cisco claiming that they facilitated their detention

ciso logo Three Chinese writers who have spent time in prison for articles published online are suing California-based Cisco Systems Inc., according to international news reports.

The suit accuses the company of providing information and technology to Chinese authorities that facilitated the writers' detention.

...Read the full article

 

9th September
2011
  

Update: Tortuous Ethics...

Now the Human Rights Law Foundation sues Cisco claiming that the company assisted China to monitor Falun Gong

ciso logo Technology company Cisco has been sued by Washington-based Human Rights Law Foundation, reports ANI.

In its complaint, the Law Foundation said that Cisco made a anti-virus software to aid Chinese authorities in monitoring and imprisoning the banned Falun Gong members. The monitoring of Falun Gong members is part of the Golden Shield Project that has been undertaken by the Chinese government to censor references to politically sensitive issues.

The Law Foundation said that Cisco Chief John Chambers is constantly in touch with torture campaign founder Jiang Zemin regarding the project's implementation. The foundation also alleged that senior executives of the company have participated in the project despite knowing that a torture campaign has been undertaken against Falun Gong members.

Cisco provided a secure connection to provincial security databases allowing for thorough cross-checking and movement-tracing ... [such that] policemen could remotely access the suspect's work unit, access reports on the individual's political behaviour ... family history ... fingerprints, photographs and other imaging information, says the complaint quoting an engineer.

 

20th September
2011
  

Update: Licensed to Spy...

European Parliament calls for export controls on internet surveillance systems

fox replay logoInternet applications such as facebook and Twitter played a large role in the Arab spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The hardware and software used by the regimes to monitor and block communications between protestors played an equally important role.

The European Parliament has called for the export of eavesdropping and censorship software to be strictly controlled.

MEP Judith Sargentini said: \

Nokia Siemens has supplied Iran with various items of hardware and software. A British company supplied Egypt's Mubarak regime with the equipment necessary to monitor facebook and Twitter, and the Dutch Fox-it company tried to market a number of products in Tehran and other Arab countries.

Christian Democrat MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij said:

What we need to do is create a list with certain products. Companies proposing to do business with countries that have questionable records when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, can consult the list and know exactly where they stand.

 

2nd April
2012
  

Update: Will Surely be Blocked...

Another bill to prevent US companies from exporting internet censorship capability

US Senate The US House Foreign Affairs panel has approved legislation that seeks to bar U.S. companies from helping foreign countries in trying to censor the Internet or monitor their citizens' Internet or mobile communications.

The legislation approved by the Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee would require the State Department to identify by name in its annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices the countries that restrict access to the Internet. It also would bar U.S. firms from exporting to these countries hardware or software that could be used to spy on or censor citizens.

The Global Online Freedom Act would also require companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission what types of information they share with repressive regimes and whether they notify users when they block access to content at their request. Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., the bill's sponsor, has said this last provision would allow human rights activists to pressure U.S. companies not to engage in such practices.

Despite this, the bill faces an uphill battle in Congress. Smith has introduced similar versions of the legislation in past years but those measures haven't gone far.

 


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