Tech Companies Called on The Carpet in DC. Again.

Google, Yahoo!, and Cisco faced questions from the subcommittee on human rights (part of the Senate Judiciary Committee) about their role in China’s Internet censorship system. Cisco was in particularly hot water after an internal document surfaced – it discusses how Cisco technology can “Combat ‘Falun Gong’ evil religion and other hostiles.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked the tough questions and had a great response to the suggestion that a filtered ‘Net (abetted by U.S. tech companies) is better than none – “I heard that argument when companies were doing business in South Africa during apartheid.” Filtering’s in the news – from Thailand to the Gaza Strip to Iran – so this hearing is timely.

Three quick observations: first, and most troubling, is that the collaborative effort (led by the Center for Democracy & Technology) to develop a code of conduct for tech companies operating in repressive countries has so far produced… a press release. And the tensions are showing: Human Rights Watch, a participant in the effort, criticized its pace (as did Durbin), noting that there’s significant opposition to independent monitoring for compliance with the code. Second, the Cisco slide looks bad, but it really just confirms what we already know – China uses the company’s tech for filtering, and Cisco’s employees are trying to drum up additional business based on that. (I used to work for a tech company, and if you know the client has certain key “business objectives,” you put those in your presentation – especially if it’s an internal one that tells you how to pitch the client.) Third, the business objective angle highlights a tough problem: what limits should tech companies observe in places like China, Burma, or Vietnam? (The companies themselves are a bit hypocritical: they want to pass the buck to the government to regulate their operations abroad – in theory – so they can avoid hard policy choices, but don’t really want any constraints in practice.) I’m slowly writing on exactly this topic…

2 Responses to “Tech Companies Called on The Carpet in DC. Again.”

  1. […] And Google. And Yahoo! […]

  2. […] consistently denied doing this sort of thing. Oops. Finally, eBay (which has thus far eluded the scrutiny that Microsoft, Google, and others have faced over operations in China) has responded by saying they’ll have TOM-Skype fix the “security breach.” No, […]