Google Compliance with Censorship Demands will Embolden China and other Repressive Governments

For Immediate Release

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Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
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Google Compliance with Censorship Demands will Embolden China and other Repressive Governments

WASHINGTON - Human Rights First today voiced disappointment that only months after
challenging China's censorship policies and announcing a review of its
Chinese operations, Google appears to be backing down. In an effort to
get China to renew its operating license there, Google yesterday
announced it would suspend a recent practice of redirecting users of
Google.cn, where searches are censored, to its Hong Kong site, which is
uncensored.

"Google drew a line in the sand earlier this year when it finally
stood up to China. But now, when it comes time to holding that line
against the persistent wave of Chinese censorship demands, Google seems
to have lost its resolve," said Human Rights First President and CEO
Elisa Massimino. "This does not bode well for Internet freedom, and it's
a reminder that companies – no matter how well intentioned or smart –
can't 'go it alone' in challenging repressive government practices."

In January, Google announced "a new approach to China," a decision
sparked by the discovery that its site had been hacked. The hackers were
after Google's intellectual property and the G-mail accounts of human
rights activists. Google said then that it was no longer willing to
censor its search results and would review its operations in China. In
its announcement, the company noted "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."

In March, Google adopted an "automatic redirect" policy. It was short
lived. In its place, Google will provide a link that Chinese users can
click to access the Hong Kong site; however, mainland users cannot
follow the link to google.com.hk unless they are using circumvention
tools because it is blocked by the firewall. Sophisticated users who are
already taking steps to avoid censorship will be able to get unfiltered
search results but average users will be presented with the illusion of
an option that won't actually work for them.

Massimino noted, "This case has implications for Internet users
around the globe. China's tough stand – and Google's apparent
capitulation – will embolden regimes in Iran, Egypt, Belarus, Russia,
and affect the business environment for the entire Internet and
telecommunications sector. Google and other companies in this sector
must get as serious about defending Internet freedom as China is about
maintaining its firewall. This is an early salvo in the long battle for
Internet freedom, and it's important that the industry leaders stand
tough."

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

To address these issues, Human Rights First joined the Global Network
Initiative (GNI) which brings businesses, investors and other
stakeholders together to promote transparency and a collaborative and
unified response to repressive practices. Google is a charter GNI
member. The initiative was formed to use the industry's leverage in
innovation to bring repressive government practices to light, and to
counter them with policies that promote openness and access. For more
information about the GNI, visit http://www.globalnetworkinitiative.org/.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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