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U.S. high-tech companies under fire on Capitol Hill for Internet censorship

March 2, 2010 |  2:22 pm

Internet freedom took center stage Tuesday on Capitol Hill when U.S. technology companies were criticized for censoring or blocking Internet sites in China, Iran and other countries.

“With a few notable exceptions, the information 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,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said during a hearing.

Durbin Durbin, who chairs a Senate Judiciary Committee panel, said he would introduce legislation that would require Internet companies to take “reasonable steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability.”

Responding to arguments that companies must censor to comply with the laws of these countries, Durbin said: “I recognize that the IT industry faces difficult challenges when dealing with repressive governments, but Congress has a responsibility to ensure that American companies are not complicit in violating the fundamental human rights of Internet users around the globe.”

The overseas practices of high-tech companies have come under greater scrutiny in the wake of Google’s announcement that it would stop censoring search results in China. Google made the pledge after it came under cyber attack there.

Google deputy general counsel Nicole Wong testified at the Senate hearing. She said Google is committed to stop censoring search results but would not say when.

Analysts say the renewed attention could apply greater pressure on companies to stop suppressing freedom of the Internet.

Durbin commended Google for deciding to stop censoring its search engine in China. He also noted that Yahoo and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, continue to do so.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

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