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Lawmakers Blast US Firms Helping China Censor Internet


American congressmen are accusing U.S. companies of providing the tools and otherwise helping China limit public access to the Internet. The criticisms came Wednesday in a briefing sponsored by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

Although U.S. companies were in the spotlight, there was no one to represent them at the briefing.

"I should note that we extended Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems an invitation to join us, but they declined to appear," said Congressman Tim Ryan.

Who said the caucus is examining what role American technology companies play in China's efforts to censor Internet access.

"Recent news reports have shown that Chinese authorities are relying on the resources, cooperation and technology of American tech companies in carrying out the repression of free speech and free press, which is a cause of great concern for many of us here in the United States Congress," he added.

Some recent developments include Google's decision to block politically sensitive terms on its new Chinese search web site and Microsoft's move to shut down an Internet journal that discussed politically sensitive issues. Last year, Yahoo provided Beijing with e-mail account information that led authorities to arrest a Chinese journalist and sentence him to 10 years in prison. Cisco, which makes computer routers, has been accused of providing China with the computer filtering hardware.

Congressman Tom Lantos accused the American companies of sacrificing human rights for business interests.

"These massively successful high-tech companies, which couldn't bring themselves to send their representatives to this meeting today, should be ashamed," said Mr Lantos. "With all their power and influence, wealth and high visibility, they neglected to commit to the kind of positive action that human rights activists in China take every day. They caved in to Beijing's demands for the sake of profits, or whatever else they choose to call it."

Although the companies did not send representatives, they all sent written comments.

Google said it is trying to balance local conditions, with the interests of the users and efforts to expand access to information. The company says that is why it is disclosing to its Chinese users what information has been blocked.

In a joint statement, Microsoft and Yahoo said beyond commercial considerations, they believe they have helped bring wider access to independent sources of information in China. They also warned that there are Chinese officials and domestic competitors who would want to see big American companies withdraw from countries like China.

Cisco said the routers it sells in China have the same features that are currently used by libraries and schools to block content authorities deem improper, and have not been altered for the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, the chairman of House International Relations subcommittee on global human rights, Chris Smith, says he expects the four companies will send representatives to a hearing on the issue later this month.