politics, technology

Will Yahoo! and the Others Change Their China Policies Now?

Shi landed in trouble three years ago when the Chinese government prohibited journalists to report on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989.

When Shi forwarded the notice to human rights groups, the Chinese government pressured Yahoo to give them the name of the account holder, and they did so. Shi was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

CNN: Yahoo settles dissidents suit

Yesterday’s announcement that Yahoo! is settling with the families of a men imprisoned and tortured with Yahoo!’s help sends a nice message, but is it enough to change the policies of companies like Yahoo!, Google, News Corp, and Microsoft which aid the Chinese government in suppressing democracy and commit human rights violations? Probably not. But that change is getting closer.

Yahoo! has tried to excuse their reprehensible actions by explaining that non-compliance with Chinese authorities could land their Chinese employees in jail. Clearly, the US needs to apply an equal pressure here. American companies must not be allowed to break national and international laws without consequence. NPR has reported that Congress is taking steps towards making this happen with something called the Global Online Freedom Act, which would make it an explicit crime for US companies to aid China’s effort to suppress and torture its people. The act finds that:

Technology companies in the United States that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian foreign governments have a moral responsibility to comply with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Technology companies in the United States have succumbed to pressure by authoritarian foreign governments to provide such governments with information about Internet users that has led to the arrest and imprisonment of cyber dissidents, in violation of the corporate responsibility of such companies to protect and uphold human rights.

Technology companies in the United States have provided technology and training to authoritarian foreign governments which have been used by such governments in filtering and blocking information that promotes democracy and freedom.

The act also decrees that “A United States business may not locate, within a designated Internet-restricting country, any electronic communication that contains any personally identifiable information.” and that “Any information that may be provided under subsection (a) for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes may only be provided through established legal channels as determined by the Department of Justice.”

The act basically says that America companies operating in China have conducted themselves in a way befitting of American values and laws. And since these companies are unable or unwilling to act in a lawful and moral manner the US Government will make them. While it would be nice if companies like Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and News Corp did what was right on their own it is good to see that at least Congress is trying to make sure US companies acting as the henchmen of dictators. That is, if the act ever gets voted on.

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