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Why You & Yahoo Should Like This Human Rights Law

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the say-what-you-wanna-say dept.

Your Rights Online 217

Regular contributor Bennett Haselton has written in to say that "The Global Online Freedom Act, introduced last year during a firestorm of controversy over American companies cooperating with totalitarian governments in China and elsewhere, was introduced this month as the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007. When Chris Smith (R-NJ) first introduced the law in 2006, Yahoo was under fire for recently turning over information to Chinese authorities that led to the arrest of a political dissident, Microsoft was attacked for removing pages from MSN Spaces China at the behest of the government, Google was being criticized for removing political sites from search results displayed to China, and Cisco was accused of helping to enable Chinese filtering of the Web. All four corporations testified at a February 2006 House hearing during which Representative Tom Lantos summed up the mood of many of his colleagues by telling the companies, "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night." The companies protested that they had no choice but to comply with local Chinese laws, but that they were troubled by their own actions, and -- in a rarity for individual tech companies, much less for a chorus -- they all invited the U.S. government to play a bigger role, while being vague about what the role should be."

GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries" and would in most cases prohibit U.S.-based companies from censoring content or turning over users' information to the governments of those countries. Do these companies want GOFA to pass? And is GOFA a good law? I think, yes and yes, but the answers are more complicated than they seem.

With American "collaboration" less in the news, GOFA made less of a splash when it was re-introduced this year, but it is still the subject of spirited debate. Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups have already signed a statement supporting the July 2006 version of the bill (nearly identical the 2007 version). But blogger-journalist Rebecca MacKinnon argues that by creating a government-maintained list of "Internet censoring countries", the law falls short of calling for support of free speech in all countries (the initial list, for example, includes Iran and China, but leaves out notorious human rights violator and net-censor Saudi Arabia). Danny O'Brien of the EFF backs this position as well, and also argues the organization's long-standing position that "code is speech" and that filtering software should not be subject to export regulations that are proposed in the law.

I agree with MacKinnon that instead of using a list of "Internet restricting countries", we should require the same standards of U.S. companies wherever they do business, or at least, stop playing silly games like leaving Saudi Arabia off of a list of human rights violators because Bush is friends with the ruling family. I agree with the EFF that filtering software should be considered First-Amendment-protected speech like encryption software, and not be included on an export-prohibited "munitions" list. And for reasons listed below, I think that the law won't stop censoring countries from blocking any speech they want. But even with all of these qualifications, I think the law would be a step in the right direction, if only for the rules prohibiting companies from turning over users' personal information to the governments of countries like China and Iran. It's painful to give a pass to countries like Germany that also censor political speech, but I think that the situation is so much worse in places like China that we should do what we can in the short term. And for reasons I'll get into, I think that Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Cisco are secretly hoping that a law like GOFA does get passed -- even if they can't come out and say so.

First, what the law does not do: There is still nothing to stop a U.S. company from blocking or removing legal, political content at the request of a foreign government. Section 204 says only that American content-hosting companies and content-filtering companies have to provide the U.S. government with a list of sites that have been removed or blocked at the behest of a censoring country.

Section 205 does say that U.S. companies may not block or remove sites that are operated by the U.S. government, or by any entity that receives grants from the International Broadcasting Bureau to help defeat foreign censorship. Presumably that would include Peacefire, at least during the periods when we're under contract to the IBB to develop the Circumventor software (but before you start calling me Hallibennett, I'm not working for the IBB right now, and it was my own idea to write this). So the American government, while requiring schools to block us in the U.S., would actually be helping to get us un-blocked in China and Iran! But Section 205 only says that a U.S. business may not block or shut down such sites. As far as I can tell, that means if the Cisco engineer on site in China sets up their routers for them, the Cisco engineer can't put VOANews.com on the block list. But then the Chinese official can walk across the room and add it to the list himself, can't he? Which is almost certainly what they'll do, since the routers are in their country.

So, I think the regulations against Internet blocking will be easy for foreign governments to ignore. But where the law could make a difference is in the prohibition against turning over users' personal data to law enforcement in censoring countries. Section 201 says that servers located in a censoring country cannot contain personally identifiable user information (so that the local police cannot simply storm in and seize the data). Section 202 says that American companies can only turn information over to law enforcement of a censoring country if the information is needed "for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes as determined by the Department of Justice". MacKinnon has criticized this aspect of the law as well -- "If Americans don't want the DOJ to have access to their user information, why should anybody else?" Very true. But, even at the lowest point of public confidence in the Department of Justice, I think most people living outside of fortified compounds stocked with beef jerky and gold bullion, can agree that the U.S. DoJ has more integrity and legitimacy than the government of China, and that such a rule would mean fewer Chinese dissidents going to jail.

What do the affected U.S. companies think of the law? Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco did not respond to requests for comment. A Google PR person replied to say, "We welcome intiatives that expand access to information and protect the rights of users across the globe. At the same time, we remain concerned that legislation in this area can have unintended consequences, so we intend to study any such proposals closely, and work with proponents and others to reach the right outcome." When I replied that the Global Online Freedom Act had been proposed more than a year ago and had been online in its current form since June 2006, presumably enough time to "study such a proposal closely" and take a position on it, he said they would stick with that statement for now. (In his e-mail, he actually put quote marks around the company's statement, which I thought was a nice dry touch.)

But past statements from the respective companies have indicated they would be amenable to such a law. Bill Gates, never one to be shy about criticizing government regulation that he disagreed with, was asked in a February 2006 interview with the London Times, "Should the US government establish guidelines to regulate how internet companies deal with censorship in countries like China?" and answered, "I think something like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been a resounding success in terms of very clearly outlining what companies can't do and other rich countries largely went along with that." At the February 2006 house hearings to discuss American companies' cooperation with overseas censors, representatives from all companies indicated that they actually wanted the government to play a bigger role -- they were vague about what such a role would be, but this was only a month after the first draft of the Global Online Freedom Act had been proposed, the only such law on the table at the time.

At first this might seem paradoxical -- why would companies seem amenable to, even supportive of, laws that would restrict what they can do? But it actually makes sense if you consider their negotiating position with the Chinese government. Currently, the Chinese censors can tell Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google that they either have to either play by the Chinese rules or get out, and the censors know that the companies will comply (without even necessarily feeling guilty about it -- the companies can always say that the Chinese people are better off with a censored version of their services than no access at all).

But if the companies' hands are tied by U.S. law, then they can basically present the Chinese government with a take-it-or-leave-it deal: You can use our e-mail and messenger and blog services, just know that our government won't let us turn over users' personal information if you ever want it. The Chinese censors are presumably coming from the point of view that they'd rather have a controlled Internet, but that it's more important to reap the economic benefits of having the Internet in their country, even if some control is lost (after all, if they didn't believe that, they wouldn't have connected to the Internet in the first place). Hence it's not likely that they'd throw out Yahoo Mail and Google search and MSN Messenger when so many users depend on these and use them for business as well as personal use. (Even if there are Chinese-made alternatives, there would be the huge cost of switching everyone over, and no longer being able to use the old tools to communicate with American companies.) So a law controlling the actions of U.S. companies would very probably allow them to keep doing business in censored countries, while giving them an excuse not to turn over users' data.

But, that might not work if it looks like the companies pushed too hard for the law themselves. If the Chinese see Yahoo fighting tooth and nail to pass a law that restricts what information Yahoo can hand over to China, the Chinese censors could take that as a slap in the face, and punish Yahoo for defying them even after the law is passed that prohibits Yahoo from cooperating. "Oh, you can't give us that information because of the law? This law right here that you lobbied for?"

So, when the general counsel of Yahoo says, "Ultimately, the greatest leverage lies with the U.S. government"; when the Vice President of Google tells Congress, "And certainly also, finally, there is a role for government. We do need your help, and you can help us"; when the associate general counsel of Microsoft testifies, "It is, therefore, the responsibility of governments, with the active leadership of the United States, to seek to reduce or reconcile these differences", I think what we're hearing are subtly encoded messages saying, "Pass this law, or something like it; we just can't look like we wanted it to pass." So, Congress should give them what they want, even if they can't ask for it directly. And at the same time they would be helping users in censored countries all around the world, before the next one gets sent to jail because an American company turned over their information.

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217 comments

Grow a pair (5, Insightful)

udderly (890305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829276)

I think what we're hearing are subtly encoded messages saying, "Pass this law, or something like it; we just can't look like we wanted it to pass." So, Congress should give them what they want, even if they can't ask for it directly.

Translation: We don't have the balls to stand on principle and we don't want the loss of revenue that would result from getting out of these markets, so we have to be able to say that our gov't made us do it.

Re:Grow a pair (4, Insightful)

TheWoozle (984500) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829500)

What country do you live in? When was the last time you heard of Wall Street being bullish on a stock because the company was a champion of human rights?

In the USA, officers of a company have a legal obligation to not intentionally harm the company's stock value through policy decisions. It's entirely possible that if the company leadership "grew a pair" and the result was being kicked out of China, the stockholders would file suit.

Capitalism doesn't work the way you suggest. Unless you want to re-write the ground rules to introduce factors other than "what will make us the most money" into the equation, then you're stuck with the current greedy, take-no-prisoners, CYA corporate status quo.

Re:Grow a pair (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829666)

Not to mention, at some level, this isn't a "human rights" thing, it's a "sovereignty" thing -- companies are bound to obey the laws of the countries they do business in. This ridiculous proposed law giving Google the "freedom" to disobey Chinese censorship laws is a complete non-starter, for the obvious reason that a Chinese court isn't going to care what the relevant US law is... nor should they. All this will do is prevent Google, Yahoo, et al., from doing business in China, and I suspect guys like Baidu.com will be more than happy about it.

Indeed, this will likely have a detrimental effect on Chinese freedom, since US-owned companies are more free to bend Chinese laws without fear of physical reprisal or of nationalization.

FCPA, anyone? (1)

mi (197448) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830018)

Not to mention, at some level, this isn't a "human rights" thing, it's a "sovereignty" thing -- companies are bound to obey the laws of the countries they do business in. This ridiculous proposed law giving Google the "freedom" to disobey Chinese censorship laws is a complete non-starter, for the obvious reason that a Chinese court isn't going to care what the relevant US law is...

What, I wonder, is your opinion of the FCPA [wikipedia.org] — law, which prohibits American companies from bribing foreign officials? Granted, this new law is going a step further, since bribery is illegal in all countries...

All this will do is prevent Google, Yahoo, et al., from doing business in China, and I suspect guys like Baidu.com will be more than happy about it.

Then so be it. I doubt, this will be the case in practice, though. Faced with this new law, and certain, that all of their American competitors will have to do the same (this assurance is, really, what each of the companies in question really wanted), each company will find a way — possibly by locating their servers in Mongolia, India, or South Korea, for example...

Indeed, this will likely have a detrimental effect on Chinese freedom, since US-owned companies are more free to bend Chinese laws without fear of physical reprisal or of nationalization.

Err, sorry, I don't follow this logic... American companies' ability to bend China's oppressive laws should contribute to, rather than detriment from the freedom of ordinary Chinese...

Re:Grow a pair (3, Interesting)

alan_dershowitz (586542) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830338)

Companies are also bound by the laws of the country they are INCORPORATED in. This has always been the case. A company doesn't have the right to incorporate in the USA if it can't follow US laws, and it doesn't have the right to operate in China if it can't obey Chinese laws. This necessarily excludes some types of business ventures with some types of foreign governments.

No one is asking anyone to violate any nation's sovereignty and no one is taking away the right to run a business as one sees fit. American companies just want to have their cake and eat it too, make profit outside the USA doing while doing things not legal within our borders. I personally think that if an American company runs manufacturing facilities outside the USA they should still be bound by USA pollution standards, because it's all the same air and water.

This would only apply to Google if the law PASSED, I realize this.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830924)

"A company doesn't have the right to incorporate in the USA if it can't follow US laws, and it doesn't have the right to operate in China if it can't obey Chinese laws."

I'm not disagreeing with your logic, but reframing something we currently take for granted. Should U.S. incorporated companies have to pay minimium wage to overseas employees?

If you want to be a U.S. company, there are rules. (2, Informative)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#17831052)

companies are bound to obey the laws of the countries they do business in.

Not quite true; the primary obligation of a company is to the laws of the country that it is incorporated in, which is the closest you can get to where a fictitious, legal entity "resides." After that, then they have some responsibility to the laws of the country where they would also like to do business, but only if those laws don't conflict with their home country's.

If you don't want to follow U.S. laws, you just have to not be incorporated there, and not have any offices there, and not have your stock listed in any U.S. exchanges, and you probably don't want to have any employees based there, or have any of your corporate officers fly there, either. But if you do those things, particularly if you base the company out of the U.S., then you're beholden to U.S. laws, which may limit where you can do business.

You can't have it both ways: you can't enjoy the protection of First World laws and derive the benefits of being traded in a First World stock market, while bribing people left and right, collaborating with terrorists or repressive regimes, and generally acting like the corporate equivalent of a tin-pot dictatorship. (Or, at least you shouldn't; clearly some companies get away with things they shouldn't, from time to time.)

I think this proposed law makes a whole lot more sense, even, than the FCPA (which I had mixed feelings about initially, since I'm not sure that bribery is universally immoral, or at least not immoral to the same extent that turning some blogger over to the Chinese, so he can be imprisoned and tortured, is).

Re:Grow a pair (1)

udderly (890305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829706)

I couldn't agree more; when one does the right thing it often has very negative consequences.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829796)

Perhaps, rather than continually applying legal hacks like this, something should be done to address the root problem. If shareholders are the cause of corporate decisions, make them responsible for them as well.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

NDPTAL85 (260093) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829936)

So in other words lets completely dismantle our financial system so that we can maintain the moral high ground......while we're all reduced to living in shacks and eating ramen noodles for dinner.

Re:Grow a pair (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830040)

Perhaps, rather than continually applying legal hacks like this, something should be done to address the root problem. If shareholders are the cause of corporate decisions, make them responsible for them as well.
So in other words lets completely dismantle our financial system so that we can maintain the moral high ground......while we're all reduced to living in shacks and eating ramen noodles for dinner.

So what you're saying is that instituting a policy of responsibility would destroy civilization?

I think it's the only thing that can save it.

Just think, if shareholders didn't just share in dividends, but were required to pay money (probably in the form of loss of shares) as part of any financial punishment levied against a corporation for its wrongdoing, they might actually employ some kind of responsibility in their investments! And then, corporations would be forced to be good citizens if they didn't want to scare off every investor!

Gee, wouldn't that be terrible?

Nice FUD, twink.

Re:Grow a pair (2, Interesting)

KlomDark (6370) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830100)

No, simply make them liable for investing in immoral companies. If the immoral company gets shut down, they lose their money. That should be good enough, rather than having to make their liability something like fines or jail time. Just enough of a nudge to make them consider investing in companies that are not into nefarious activity.

Just a minor change to the law that makes it so companies cannot be sued by shareholders for merely upholding good moral standards: Company gets kicked out of China for refusing to submit to an immoral request? Not a reason to sue (or at least win the case) for negligence.

Wouldn't that be a nice long term effect on things? I think it would be. Sure, people could still try to sue, but if a court found that the company was acting in the best interest of mankind or freedom, then the case gets thrown out.

Re:Grow a pair (0)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 7 years ago | (#17831150)

Who appointed you (or someone you believe in) as the moral authority?

Who says that it is not the firm belief of a majority of Chinese citizens that arresting people that speak out openly about revolution, social disorder and collapse of the current system is moral? Maybe they don't like things they way they are but they see proposed alternatives as much, much worse.

Again, who the heck is going to decide "moral"? Would you like it to be an imam that believes women should be uneducated and hidden away? How about the Catholic pope? I'm sure there are many that believe that one of these two is "moral" and should judge others.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

WhiplashII (542766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830046)

I have a rule: "Doing something that you know won't work is never the right thing." That is my primary beef with liberals, in fact. If the stuff they proposed had a result that even maintained the status quo, it would be wonderful. The problem is that they "do the right thing," and make things far worse because "doing the right thing" was not realistic.

If you know that giving your starving brother money will result in him buying drugs instead of food, it is immoral to give him money. Come up with a different plan.

Re:Grow a pair (2, Insightful)

Acy James Stapp (1005) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829766)

IANAL

The board of directors has a fiduciary duty to look after the interests of the corporation. These interests are typically financial but if the corporate charter has goals other than profit, such as "do no evil", the directors can be liable for failing to uphold them.

Re:Grow a pair (2, Interesting)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830232)

Finally, another voice who recognizes what a board really is legally bound to do. There is no law stating that officers of a public company have to maximize profits. They have a legal responsibility to act in the manner directed to them by the majority of voting shareholders. As you stated, this is most often a directive of "maximize profits", but not always.

Every time someone states that Milton Friedman quote as a law, the trader loses his license.

Re:Grow a pair (2, Insightful)

ajs (35943) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829870)

In the USA, officers of a company have a legal obligation to not intentionally harm the company's stock value through policy decisions. It's entirely possible that if the company leadership "grew a pair" and the result was being kicked out of China, the stockholders would file suit.
Show me the law.

There is, to my knowledge, no such law. What officers of a company have is a fiduciary duty [wikipedia.org] to increase stockholder value according to the terms of the stockholder's purchase of stock. This includes, and is almost entirely circumscribed by the details of the S1 or "red herring" filing with the SEC. If your S1 says, "we will lose money, year after year, until everyone allows freedom of the press in their countries," then that's what your stockholders can hold you to. They understood the terms under which they were getting in bed with you (or should have... that's their duty), and can't complain when you do what you said you would.

This is one of the reasons that Google's S1 is important. It doesn't guarantee that they'll do the right thing, but if they do, and stockholders complain, they can always point to their S1 and say, "what part of 'Don't be evil' did you not understand?" It's not a marketing thing, it's a legal disclaimer.

In this case, it's not clear to me if Google did the right or the wrong thing, and I don't think we can answer that objectively ... yet. Yahoo! and Cisco, on the other hand, have clearly hurt the Chineese people in tangible ways (Cisco is probably responsible for far more arrests than Yahoo!, but they don't get the same bad press because you can't point to specific instances where their monitoring tools have identified activists). For them, there's no other alternative, since their actions would have to be outright illegal for them to not pursue any profit that they can.

I have to say that, post-Google's IPO, I would never issue an S1 that didn't contain at least a vague morality clause like Google's. It's actually good business practice.

Re:Grow a pair (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17830068)

Actually, capitalism is entirely neutral.

The officers of a company are not obligated to worry about stock values. They are obligated to act in the interest of the stockholders. If the stockholders value stock value above all else, then the officers of the company must act in a way which maximizes stock value. However, stockholders may hold core ethical values (e.g. environmentalism) above profit, in which case the officers of the company must act accordingly.

Yes, on the surface, it looks like capitalism favors efficiency above all else. A company which inefficiently uses environmentally sound manufacturing practices has a competitive disadvantage against a polluting, but more efficient competitor. However, the reality is that this simply reflects the values of consumers. As long as consumers value a lower price over environmentally sound manufacturing processes (for instance), corporations will act accordingly or die. It is survival of the fittest - and the consumers create the environment.

So, who is really to blame? Well, the officers are not directly to blame. But their only defense is that they were "just following orders". So there is absolutely nothing wrong with denigrating them. (They could, after all, go find work elsewhere.) Likewise, the stockholders are not responsible for the environment they find their business in, but they are responsible for its actions. So it is perfectly acceptable to denigrate them as well.

However, only consumers who refuse to use such products have any right to denigrate the companies which provide them! Consumers who use these products and do not demand companies meet their own core values are the ultimate cause here. They've created the environment in which these corporations must survive. To denigrate the corporation for trying to survive in this environment while simultaneous actively creating such an environment is hypocrisy.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830110)

Actually, at a shareholder meeting, someone could (or should) introduce a new or amended charter that forbids the company from negotiating with entities known to have violated human rights.

That section would be a small paragraph out of a larger document that defined the goals of the company. I wouldn't be surprised if the stock holders voted for it.

Corporate Citizenship (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830428)

The problem here is that there has been a huge divide between "legal" and "moral" responsibility, because we cannot legislate "morality" because of the left wingers view of what right wingers want in regards to "morality". This is the unintended consequence of this liberal mindset.

For those on the left and right, it is a moral dilemma of huge proportions. The left doesn't want to legislate morality because they want free sex, porn on every corner, and unfettered access to abortion. The right doesn't want morals to interfere with their pocketbooks.

Both sides have it wrong. Morality is doing what is RIGHT, in spite of what is "legal", or "illegal". The problem we have in most western societies, is we have laws in place that make what is MORAL, actually illegal. So when people stop acting morally, we ought to understand WHY it is that way.

Nobody wants anyone else's morality thrusted upon them, but also, they want their morality thrusted upon everyone else.

Now you know why.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

Emperor Cezar (106515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17831168)

Don't blame it on "Capitalism". The stock exchange and it's rules are set by the SEC, not by the free market.

Corporate/Government Pair (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829788)

Corporations know that unless the government regulates the market with universal requirements, some competitors will seek the appearance of short-term (and illusory long-term) gain, despite the good reasons (business and ethical) to prop up tyrannies. Those who want to do the right thing but can't afford to fail to compete with those who will do the wrong thing need the government to level the playing field.

It takes balls for corporations to ask the government to regulate them, rather than the absolutely standard "self-regulation" lies they almost always tell to get

Fact is that doing wrong is often more profitable than doing good, at least at first. That's one reason the people create a government to protect our market, which unregulated can undermine our freedom. When corporations work with that system, rather than against it, they're working with the people, rather than against us. Which makes sense, because the corporate execs are people, too.

Re:Grow a pair (1)

iiioxx (610652) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829838)

Translation: We don't have the balls to stand on principle and we don't want the loss of revenue that would result from getting out of these markets, so we have to be able to say that our gov't made us do it.

More accurate translation: Make it so that all U.S. companies are forced to play by the same rules, so that the companies that opt to support human rights don't lose revenue to the companies that opt not to.

can you get any higher? (1)

manifoldronin (827401) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830152)

Translation: We don't have the balls to stand on principle and we don't want the loss of revenue that would result from getting out of these markets, so we have to be able to say that our gov't made us do it.
slashdot never fails to amaze me in terms of finding out there is always somebody who is capable of climbing to an even higher moral highground, no matter where the rest of the world stand.

Maybe the author is simply speculating on what those companies are thinking, but wouldn't this still be a lot better than "we don't have the balls to stand up, and we secretly hope that our government doesn't either?"

Re:Grow a pair (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830520)

So where should we draw the line?

If these companies didn't do what they did China would just block all of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo.... From their country so the people will be left with Less Information then they would now, Also many of these American Companies wouldn't have the extra buisness.

What about in other countries that say the companies need to block "Bad Things", in which many I do personally find distaistful, Such as Racism, Sexuality, Violance,... Companies are woring on the Gray Line of what is Profitable, Legal, and Moral (I Guess with 3 DataPoints it is more of a plane). Unfortunatly they don't always match.

   

Have you actually seen many Chinese websites? (1)

hackingbear (988354) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830602)

Well.... first don't assume that only American companies know how to create Web sites. If Americans don't take that market, fine, there are thousands of similar web sites from e-mail to blogs in China. In fact, many US sites like Yahoo are not popular in China because their front pages do not contain tons of "sexually implicit" materials as you can find in a true Chinese website.

I have been living in China for a few years. While it is absolutely true that the government has restrictions on the cyberspace. The Internet is still the most open place for public opinions. In fact, except a few very sensitive issues like Taiwan or Fa Lun Gong, you can see many criticism of the government or the party; I have read posts that simply refers the party as dictators and the posts were appearing in major sites like Sina.com. Other examples I just read (sorry you need to be able to read Chinese):

http://comment4.news.sina.com.cn/comment/skin/defa ult.html?channel=cj&newsid=31-1-3297449 [sina.com.cn]

http://comment4.news.sina.com.cn/comment/skin/defa ult.html?channel=gn&newsid=1-1-12182898&style=0 [sina.com.cn]

So restricting American companies' conducts in China is both useless and unnecessary. This is advocated by politicians who know not much about China and just try to appeal to the equally mis-informed public.

Aside what do most Chinese people worry about? Politic? Democracy? Freedom? No. They worry about sky-rocketing housing price, education and medical costs, and they worry about jobs. The same things we worry about in America. Things like democracy and freedom of speech do not solve all those problems. Look at Philippine, Mexico, India, ... Are people better off in those countries with elected officials?

I think as people in China get richer and richer, they will ask for more and more political rights and freedom. That has been the case for last 20 years. Those things will not need to come overnight. What works is a middle-class-driven economy.

There is life out side of politics in those countries.

A Bigger Role.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829294)

"Yahoo was under fire for recently turning over information to Chinese authorities"

"Microsoft was attacked for removing pages from MSN Spaces China at the behest of the government"

"Google was being criticized for removing political sites from search results displayed to China"

"Cisco was accused of helping to enable Chinese filtering of the Web"

"they're all invited by the U.S. government to play a bigger role, while being vague about what the role should be."

Easy, since they did so well in China, they now consult for US Homeland Security.

Word play aside...

I do wonder, really - how much do these companies (and other companies) do the same to folks in the US and worldwide and... how much do we hear about it?

Does anybody believe that other governments don't do the same thing?

Turning over identifies and filtering content ... (3, Insightful)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829536)

"Yahoo was under fire for recently turning over information to Chinese authorities"
"Microsoft was attacked for removing pages from MSN Spaces China at the behest of the government"
"Google was being criticized for removing political sites from search results displayed to China"
"Cisco was accused of helping to enable Chinese filtering of the Web"


This is a poor list. Turning over identifies and removing/filtering content are vastly different activities. You trivialize the former by lumping it in with the later.

Re:Turning over identifies and filtering content . (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830552)

Turning over identifies and removing/filtering content are vastly different activities. You trivialize the former by lumping it in with the later.
I would assert that removing information is just as (if not more) insidious as the chilling effect of turning people over to be arrested.

One form of control is no better or worse than the other.

Tell that to the people... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17831096)

...rotting away in Chinese prisons.

Uhhuh (2, Insightful)

TodMinuit (1026042) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829328)

I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.

Ambien

The companies protested that they had no choice but to comply with local Chinese laws, but that they were troubled by their own actions

Until they got the check and the good PR.

And is GOFA a good law?

No it's not. Such a law won't stop anything from happen, it'll merely move it out of the hands of US companies. I don't think that's a good thing.

Re:Uhhuh (3, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829642)

No it's not. Such a law won't stop anything from happen, it'll merely move it out of the hands of US companies. I don't think that's a good thing.
Right, but then companies will have no choice but take a 'take-it-or-leave-it stance' with the Chinese government. It's a game of 'good cop/bad cop'. When the Chinese government comes in and says, "give me your subscriber list", the companies can now pass the buck, point a thumb back at Uncle Sam and say, "Huh, sorry, you'll have to take that up with them. In the meantime, the only other thing we can do is stop providing services in your country."

Re:Uhhuh (1)

WhiplashII (542766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830086)

Especially since the companies all have contracts with China now. If they decided to stop providing service, they are hit with penalty clauses - not to mention the black eye that breaking a contract would give them.

But all contracts have a "separability clause" that says that anything in the contract that violates the law is automatically declared void without effecting the rest of the contract. So the contract payments et al remain in effect, while the agreement to be evil goes away.

Ingenious, really.

Re:Uhhuh (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830756)

But all contracts have a "separability clause" that says that anything in the contract that violates the law is automatically declared void without effecting the rest of the contract. So the contract payments et al remain in effect, while the agreement to be evil goes away.

Ingenious, really.
That's true of U.S. contract law, but I'm not sure what China's contract laws are like. Anyone know?

Make internet technology a munition then (2, Interesting)

xtal (49134) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829338)

..and refuse permission to export to countries that don't respect civil rights. There. Even playing field.

This is a joke; they're all hypocrites, they all worship the almighty dollar over human liberty. Every company listed literally is falling over themselves to access new markets.

If you want to trade with countries like this, at least have the balls to owe up to what you're doing. You obviously don't feel THAT bad. I'm sure someone rotting away in jail because of your reporting feels much worse.

Defend Your Rights Before +2, Helpful (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829396)


more are removed by the world's most dangerous liar [slashdot.org] .

Thanks for your support.

Patriotically,
K. Trout, C.E.O.

Well, we can start compiling the list already (1, Troll)

guruevi (827432) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829408)

GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries"
  • United States
  • China
  • Korea

Re:Well, we can start compiling the list already (2, Informative)

udderly (890305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829488)

Also:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Germany
  • Cuba
  • Singapore

Re:Well, we can start compiling the list already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829574)

From the bill:


(8) Legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes.--

            (A) In general.--

            The term "legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes" means for purposes of enforcement, investigation, or prosecution by a foreign official based on a publicly promulgated law of reasonable specificity that proximately relates to the protection or promotion of the health, safety, or morals of the citizens of that jurisdiction.

            (B) Rule of construction.--

            For purposes of this Act, the control, suppression, or punishment of peaceful expression of political or religious opinion, which is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, does not constitute a legitimate foreign law enforcement purpose.



This would apply to the US seeking information about posters to AlQueida webistes... so the chaces of passage is statistically zero.

Re:Well, we can start compiling the list already (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829752)

> This would apply to the US seeking information about posters to AlQueida webistes...

Trying to track down those plotting to blow up your buildings and kill your citizens does indeed count as a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

Re:Well, we can start compiling the list already (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829810)

Korea

Korea... let me guess, you're american?

Re:Well, we can start compiling the list already (1)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830014)


GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries"

        * United States
        * China
        * Korea


There's no such country now as "Korea", so I argue that this doesn't meet the qualification to be modded insightful . The original poster should explain whether he means the DPRNK (Democratic People's Republic of North Korea), the ROK (Republic Of Korea - that is, South Korea) or both.

Old News (1)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829434)

When in Rome....

When in China...

You basically have three choices:

1) Ignore the market and leave it to the competition if there is any.

2) Conform to the local rules to gain invaluable early adopters and possibly change things once you are in a position with leveredge.

3) Try to bend the market to your will. Call this the confrontational approach.

Of the three I'd submit that #2 has the best chance of success in the long term.

Re:Old News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829868)

I don't think the chinese are going to allow american companies into their markets sufficiently such that those markets will be dominated by americans. Not without having a helluva lot of guns and leverage themselves.

And if you think microsoft, or yahoo, or any other company doesn't think censorship is a bad idea when it's in their best interest, then you've got another thing coming. They may have a different way of dealing with it but hey. When all you've got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail...

Re:Old News (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829878)

When in Rome....

Act like a Visigoth and burn it down? ;)

Seriously, sometimes you can act like a barbarian and force your way in with the correct leverage battering ram. As you know the RIAA/MPAA has no qualms getting the DoJ and various other governmental agencies put pressure on Chinese authorities to comply with copyrights.

Why can't other businesses do the same with more altruistic purposes?

Sadly, maybe human rights doesn't earn stock holders or lobbyists enough money?

Re:Old News (1)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830804)

put pressure on Chinese authorities to comply with copyrights.
You are kidding me right? You ever been to China? Asia? Mexico? The US is the only place where you can buy legal copies of any given software/music/video at the corner market.

Re:Old News (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830214)

#1b - Come up with a criteria for what a minimally moral (by our definition) government is, and prohibit companies that interact with them from selling products in your country. The bill of rights is a good conversation starter.

I like this better as it puts civil rights in the hands of people, not corporations or governments. Somewhere in history this was shown to be better for us.

Like that will stop them (2, Insightful)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829468)

But if the companies' hands are tied by U.S. law, then they can basically present the Chinese government with a take-it-or-leave-it deal: You can use our e-mail and messenger and blog services, just know that our government won't let us turn over users' personal information if you ever want it. The Chinese censors are presumably coming from the point of view that they'd rather have a controlled Internet, but that it's more important to reap the economic benefits of having the Internet in their country, even if some control is lost (after all, if they didn't believe that, they wouldn't have connected to the Internet in the first place). Hence it's not likely that they'd throw out Yahoo Mail and Google search and MSN Messenger when so many users depend on these and use them for business as well as personal use. (Even if there are Chinese-made alternatives, there would be the huge cost of switching everyone over, and no longer being able to use the old tools to communicate with American companies.) So a law controlling the actions of U.S. companies would very probably allow them to keep doing business in censored countries, while giving them an excuse not to turn over users' data.

At which point the Chinese government will erect the Great Firewall of China (adding in their buddy North Korea for good measure), and then force their citizens to use government-sponsored computers, routers, network connections, mail clients, etc. And then Chinese censors will be able to have the data anytime they want it. China has all the capability needed to do this, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Re:Like that will stop them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829774)

(adding in their buddy North Korea for good measure)
Why? North Korea doesn't even use the internet...

Re:Like that will stop them (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830082)

Will such an initiative necessarily improve the quality of life for, say, Chinese citizens? Nope. But it will ensure that American companies aren't profiting off their suppression and murder. Also, China is not exactly at the forefront of technology, you may have noticed. It's not that they don't make substantial contributions but they are typically not at the head of the class. They can only get best-of-breed technology by buying it. I theorize that their treatment of their citizens has a chilling effect on scientific development. Certainly there've been many reports of faked research coming out of China... And China is legendary for copying others' products down to the last screw, because it's easier than actually developing your own tech.

Re:Like that will stop them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17830208)

let see what the market share in China look like:

websearch: Baidu.com yahoo+google+everybody
                          50% 30%

IM: QQ yahoo+msn+google+everybody
                            90% 10%

eMail: sina+netease+sohu yahoo+msn+google
                                80% 20%

Router: cisco Haiwei

Chinese government: " we take leave-it deal for 200, Alex"

Re:Like that will stop them (1)

pluther (647209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830642)

At which point the Chinese government will erect the Great Firewall of China (adding in their buddy North Korea for good measure), and then force their citizens to use government-sponsored computers, routers, network connections, mail clients, etc. And then Chinese censors will be able to have the data anytime they want it. China has all the capability needed to do this, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

I highly doubt that they could actually do that.

If they had that capability, they wouldn't have invited Google, Yahoo, Cisco, etc., in in the first place.

I think the far more likely possibility if this law passes is, either these governments live with a little less monitoring of their own citizens, or they end up not providing internet access to mosts of them.

Does this outlaw MPAA/RIAA strong-arming? (3, Informative)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829472)

FTB:

The term "substantial restrictions on Internet freedom" means actions that restrict or punish the free availability of information via the Internet for reasons other than legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes
So does this mean that when the MPAA/RIAA tell country X to block something even though none of country X's laws say they have to (in this case foreign refers to country X not the USA), that said country is restricting Internet Freedom?

Any chance this could backfire on the **AAs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829476)

If the U.S. got on the list, would that take precedence over the DMCA as it relates to suing end users over peer to peer uploads?

How they sleep (4, Funny)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829502)

"I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."
They sleep on top of a pile of money with many beautiful women.

I'm confused (5, Insightful)

BrianRoach (614397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829504)


Ok ... someone please elxplain, because I don't get it.

Doing internet business in communist and other countries which have oppressive regimes and following their local laws rather than US law (free speech, censorship, etc) is bad.

Pouring billions of dollars into their economy via manufacturing and giving them "preferred trading status" while following their local laws rather than US law (wage minimums, working conditions, etc) is good (See: China).

Makes perfect sense if you're a politician I suppose.

- Roach

Re:I'm confused (3, Insightful)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829690)

You're confused?

1) We spend billions of dollars and kill millions to fight terrorism and oppressive dictators in various countries, "because its the right thing".

2) We make drugs illegal and drug dealers import them from said countries instead of growing them here & taxing the crap out of them, and we manufacture billions of $$ of weapons and when they're not top-of-the-line anymore or we just have too many, we sell them to random places and they end up in the same said countries. I'd imagine all that money & ammo has some effect on our success in #1.

Policy doesn't have to be logically consistent, it has to create/perpetuate a self-sustaining system in the short/medium term.

(not the way I'd do it, just telling it like it is)

Re:I'm confused (2, Interesting)

rawb (529039) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830098)

I'm not confused at all. Both US parties, for the most part, support free speech at least enough to give lip service to it. Championing that globally is "American".

Half of America doesnt believe in the minimum wage or government oversight on business at all. So it's no surprise at all that we don't champion those rights abroad.

Hell, America was one of the biggest impediments (and still is) to including social issues like wages and access to services in the universal declaration of human rights.

Re:I'm confused (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830570)

When the government artificially raises or lowers the price of something, the havoc created is directly proportional to the distance of the artificial price from the natural one.

The Federal Government is supposed to:
1. Pass and enforce laws
2. Administer Justice
3. Defend the country

Notice the glaring absence of "Regulate Business". If any market regulation is be done, it should be done at the lowest level possible (e.g. state, local).

Re:I'm confused (2, Insightful)

Kelz (611260) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830424)

Here the question becomes: Does China need US (no pun intended) more than WE need THEM?

Re:I'm confused (1)

alan_dershowitz (586542) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830638)

Working conditions and minimum wage are subject to differing standards while freedom of speech is considered a sacrosanct right. Only at certain levels are standards connected to human rights, but reality dictates that if a country is only at a certain level of economic development you can only expect a certain standard of work conditions for example. I would argue that these are still things that are within the US government's power to regulate, and probably should

Re:I'm confused (2, Interesting)

Mike1024 (184871) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830910)

Ok ... someone please elxplain, because I don't get it. [...] Doing internet business in communist and other countries [...] is bad. [...] Pouring billions of dollars into their economy via manufacturing [...] is good (See: China).

I think the idea is doing business in oppressive countries isn't intrinsically bad, but actually acting to help with the oppression [bbc.co.uk] is bad.

To use an emotive example, if I sold a million dollars worth of paper clips to nazi germany, that would be OK, but if I sold a million dollars worth of gas chambers to nazi germany, that would be immoral - even if paper clips and gas chambers are equally legal. The morality and the legality are very different things.

With that established, the obvious question is "why is aiding political oppression considered worse than employing people at below minimum wage, given that both are legal in China and illegal in America?". Well, American history has 'freedom, freedom, freedom' written all over it, and politicians love talking all about freedom and the idea of making it universal (see also: Iraq), but minimum wages are a fairly recent (and slightly socialist-sounding) innovation which some people don't even support, and differences in living costs and suchlike make a global minimum wage an odd-sounding idea.

Just my $0.02,

Michael

What they need to do... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829518)

Is pass the law that says you cant give info out to forign govs, but make the punishment be like 5 bucks... that way the company can use the veil of US Law to not give the info to the gov.

the game (2, Interesting)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829610)

So these companies get the US government to prevent them from handing over information to a foreign government. Then, when that foreign government wants to track down a violator of their rules these companies get to play the:

Same Lame Blame Game

"There is nothing we can do to help you because our US government prevents us from doing that". Now their ass is covered and someone takes the heat for them. They want to take no risk or responsibility. Nothing new about this. Profit without liability.

A small correction (1)

psykocrime (61037) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829612)

Authoritarian foreign governments such as the Governments of Belarus, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, North Korea, the People's Republic of China, Tunisia, Vietnam, and The United States block, restrict, and monitor the information their citizens try to obtain.

There, fixed that for ya.

Re:A small correction (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829812)

Please provide links to web sites you cannot access within the United States.

Please provide info about how the US monitors their citizens without due process of law, i.e. warrants for searches. Oh, wait. Nevermind! :(

So umm (1)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829620)

So calling yourself a democracy really make you better than a totalitarian government? Maybe there should be a set of items against which a government should be checked against. I know of a country or two where the majority of citizens do not like what their supposedly democratic government does...but the government still does it. So if you're going to use business and technology to play politics, one may should at least make the rules fair and transparent: I don't think just wagging your finger at China is that.

Re:So umm (2, Interesting)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829790)

I was at a conference a few months ago and had lunch with someone from Iran. He talked about how he was unhappy with how Iran's president was pissing off the rest of the world, etc. He said he voted for him, but he likened the election to being given a choice between two spoons, clean ones which he took from the table and held up. Maybe one is a little shinier, but they're both spoons. And he lamented how people guessed wrong and they are now stuck with some crazy guy for 4 years.

I've not been able to vote for too many presidents, but I can't say I was ever thrilled with either of the 2 spoons... er, candidates.

Re:So umm (1)

planetmn (724378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829856)

I know of a country or two where the majority of citizens do not like what their supposedly democratic government does

I'm assuming this is supposed to be an attack on the US. If it is, you do realize that the constitution and our government was actually set up so that majority rule wasn't how everything was handled. There are a lot of ways that our government works to protect the rights of the minority over the opposition of the majority. So just because greater than 50% of constituents think it's bad policy, doesn't mean that the government should immediately reverse course.

-dave

Good old government (5, Insightful)

moeinvt (851793) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829650)

What a bunch of elitist jackasses we have in the halls of Congress!

They start bloody military conflicts where thousands are killed and maimed, trample on The Constitution, run up $8 trillion in national debt for future generations to pay off, etc. etc. and then have the AUDACITY to suggest that some corporate execs should be overwhelmed with guilt about filtering search results and shutting down web pages?

Re:Good old government (4, Insightful)

forand (530402) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830844)

So you are one of those that thinks because I do something wrong I can't see you doing something wrong? This is such a bunch of crap. If Charles Manson was the first to come out and say that Enron was a dirty company with horrible financial records would it make it less true? Politicians are in the business of standing behind curtains making bad deals and telling us all how to live. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don't lets hold them accountable for their actions but if they get something right we shouldn't throw it out because they are bad people.

Hmmmm, lemme get this straight . . . (1)

mmell (832646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829670)

Just how is a US law like this supposed to tear down the Great FireWall of China?

Oh, that's right - instead of complying with Chinese law, these players will tell the Chinese government "We can't hand over the records you've requested as a matter of US law".

Previously, they capitulated because their only choice was to face being blocked by China's Great FireWall. This changes that how?

Re:Hmmmm, lemme get this straight . . . (1)

zussal (1058116) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830836)

Maybe the Great Firewall would do everyone some good. If the Chinese government really wants to isolate themselves so badly then LET THEM! The isolation will be their demise and the rest of the world will thrive with it's internet. Maybe then the Chinese will realize they need the rest of the world and it's cultures and ideas to be the great country they "claim" to be.

GOFA meant well, but... (1)

acoustix (123925) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829716)

Do the US Representatives and Senators that passed this law remember that they also passed laws banning certain content on the Internet? I realize that blocking child pornography and blocking political speech are two different things, but it is still censorship.

Nick

How to contact your people in Congress (2, Informative)

bruguiea (1038034) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830104)

For those who live in the U.S.:

You can get your 5+4 ZIP Code:
http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/ [usps.com]

And then find those who work for you in D.C. and your State capital:
http://www.congressweb.com/ [congressweb.com]

Cheers,
Tony

Re:GOFA meant well, but... (1)

manifoldronin (827401) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830300)

Do the US Representatives and Senators that passed this law remember that they also passed laws banning certain content on the Internet? I realize that blocking child pornography and blocking political speech are two different things, but it is still censorship.
And...?

You can't just label something and go "case rested." If you do realize blocking child pornography and blocking political speech are two different things, then you should also realize that not all kinds of "censorship" are bad, otherwise you would just be overglossing.

"I realize the cop shooting a running-away fugitive and a rapist strangling his victim are two different things, but it is still killing human beings." Is that statement true? Of course, but does it get us anywhere? No.

It is OKAY to ban Child Porn though. (1)

zussal (1058116) | more than 7 years ago | (#17831066)

Sometimes it's about morals and ---- amazingly ---- not politics.

Summary of the summary? (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829778)

Longest.... summary... ever!

What about internet gambling? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829822)

First of course is the obvious of having a government mandated list of who these laws apply to. And I'll bet damn sure that the US wouldn't be put on the list to prevent the US from seeking that information.

Second, the US wants to allow the US companies to push all the web data and allow the foreign countries to work according to US laws, but then they strong arm all the foreign casinos from working with US players. If they want everyone to have full access to the US data, then the US people should have full access to all the freedoms that other countries offer. I totally agree with the person who pointed out the US has no problem working with countries that don't honor our minimum wage standards, etc.

Why just a list? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829852)

Why should this law apply to only a few countries? The law should prevent censorship or turning over data to ANY country, including the US.

What a joke... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17829896)

1. This post and this law assumes that US companies are the only options foreign governments have, and that US companies have any kind of leverage to tell foreign governments to 'take it or leave it'. That is a naive and incorrect assumption.

2. I find it very ironic that the US government is passing these laws, given the FBI's quasi-legal mass spying of internet traffic and the US government's own requests that companies like Google turn over large amounts of information on search histories. Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y?

Re:What a joke... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17830132)

The US is doing it for our own good and we have nothing to worry about unless we're terrorists. China is doing it because they're EVIL!

You trust Uncle W, don't you?

Just who is the good guy? (1)

juergen (313397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17829974)

I am not too much worried about US companies having to obey foreign local law. The notion that US law applies everywhere is ridiculous, even if I can see how some companies would like that, and maybe that's their real agenda. Would make global domination so much easier.

What worries me is foreign more or less oppressive goverments dictating local companies how they do bussiness. With threats of beeing labeled (aiding) terrorists if not complying of course.

Yes, that's the US goverment I am speaking of. Examples are absurd data gathering on air travel and financial transactions. Appearantly they forced some European companies into secret collaboration, even over local law. The EC started investigating privacy breaches, but I don't expect much to come out there. At least the Chinese don't meddle out of home.

Righteous move? (1)

Annoymous Cowherd (1036734) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830016)

Is take it or leave it really the attitude that would promote change?

At this point in time, I feel being disconnected from the flow of information would be the most harmful thing that could happen. We've already taken for granted the impact the abundance of data has had on our lives.

The freer the flow, the faster we advance. By trying to make moral decisions on their behalf, you're likely to do more harm than good. Although it is a controversial topic with no real right answer, simply halting all services would mean leaving the people with even less to look forward to.

And really. Do we think that because the government blocks political content, the people are really left in the dark?

Classic... (1)

scooviduvoctagon (801935) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830188)

"...they all invited the U.S. government to play a bigger role, while being vague about what the role should be."

Feed the monster.

U.S. on the list of Internet restricting countries (1)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830198)

Wouldn't the U.S. (and just about every country in the world) also end up on this list of internet restricting countries. Between pending regulations on political/lobbying activities on the internet, CAN-SPAM, hate speech, civil penalties for NSFW images in the workplace, filtering for libraries, kiddie porn laws, online gambling laws, USA Patriot law, DMCA, etc., one could argue that the U.S. heavily restricts activities on the internet too.

I deploy China's censorship as much as the next guy, and would strongly argue that it is very bad for the Chinese economy. But wonder if I have the knowledge or the right, much less the obligation, to hassle them about it. Perhaps we must realize that we don't have a monopoly on how to regulate the internet in the context of a cultural-dependent definition of the relative rights of societies versus individuals versus commercial enterprises versus select groups of citizens (e.g., kids, minorities, etc.).

Re:U.S. on the list of Internet restricting countr (1)

zussal (1058116) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830686)

Yeah, but the U.S. INVENTED the internet. So... what's your point?

Re:U.S. on the list of Internet restricting countr (1)

halivar (535827) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830842)

The Declaration of Independence states that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, that all (not some, not Americans, not just rich white men in a specific cultural context) have inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In our Constitution, we enumerate some of man's "liberty" rights, foremost among them the Freedom of Speech. This doesn't carry legal weight in China or Saudi Arabia, but it should be our conscience when dealing with them.

Our forefathers believed that all men on the earth, regardless of culture, have these rights upon birth. If we now say that a man's inalienable right to free speech depend upon his cultural context, we betray the single most important ideal our country was founded on.

That said, yeah, the DMCA and Patriot Act don't help; they, bit by bit, have got us believing that the right to an opinion is something that can be abridged, and that's intolerable. However, if we don't speak for Chinese dissidents, saying "but we don't have the right, or we'll be hypocrites," then no one will speak for them at all. I think they would rather we were hypocrites than silent.

Re:U.S. on the list of (women) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17830968)

The rights do not apply to women and girls however :) (which is good). Unfortunatly our culture and government hates and disrespects men and thus applys these rights to females... which reduces men's liberty.

https://cat2.dynu.ca/ [cat2.dynu.ca]

Democracy comes at the barrel of a gun (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830210)

Or at least it appears that way nowadays.

I'm all for idealism, but since those who profess Democracy seem to hate our Freedoms, how could this concept ever get not only passed into law, made into treaties, but enforced?

"Restricting" isn't a binary condition (1)

Futaba-chan (541818) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830224)

One obvious problem: "restricting" versus "not restricting" isn't a brightly-defined binary choice. Many European countries, for example, have laws prohibiting Holocaust denial, and require ISPs to take down or block access to neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial sites. But they're a far cry from, say, China. The proposed legislation doesn't deal well with that distinction....

Troubled (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17830508)

FTA
"The companies protested that they had no choice but to comply with local Chinese laws, but that they were troubled by their own actions, and "

No choice? How about not doing business if it violates your ethic. I guess money overrides ethics; your company makes more money; you make a bigger bonus. Some how I don't think that this really troubles them; if it did; they wouldn't have made those decisions. It is more like; BUSTED (engage damage recovery): we should feel sorry. "Yes, I feel bad, I feel trouble ". Has anyone see the keys to my Porsche?

Proud To Be An American (1)

Doug Dante (22218) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830650)

I realize that there are some thorny issues here of business and politics, but take a moment and read the statement of purpose from this bill: "It shall be the policy of the United States ... to promote as a fundamental component of United States foreign policy the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers;" The rest of the world can go and bash us for what we do wrong, and there's plenty there, I know, but this is something that we can and should do that is RIGHT.

Not Always Proud To Be An American (1)

uglydog (944971) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830928)

take a moment and read the statement of purpose from this bill: "It shall be the policy of the United States ... to promote as a fundamental component of United States foreign policy the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers;"
Saying that would be a good first step. A good second step would be follow through. For example, we could stop supporting repressive regimes [google.com] , like Sudan and early Sadaam-era Iraq.

The reason there's a list of countries ... (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830714)

It isn't because of Saudi Arabia -- it's because of the U.S.

GOFA would create a U.S.-government-designated list of "Internet restricting countries" and would in most cases prohibit U.S.-based companies from censoring content or turning over users' information to the governments of those countries.
(emphasis added)

Think about it -- a law which says a company isn't allowed to keep personally identifiable information, and isn't allowed to give it to the government ... yet, we have the attorney general trying to push the exact opposite for ISPs in the US [slashdot.org] (oh... but it's for kiddie porn [slashdot.org] , so that's okay, right? they wouldn't use it for tracking leaks [slashdot.org] or other crimes against free speach, right?)

Useless Without International Sanctions (2, Interesting)

logicnazi (169418) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830784)

I have to say that I'm extremely exasperated by the complaints against google for censoring their content. Yes, censorship is bad but it really pisses me off when people blame a company just for being tangled up in some unpalatable area even if their actions are a net benefit. The, quite compelling, justification that google gave for engaging in censorship was that if they didn't do it the Chinese would have access to even less information and that more censor friendly companies would take over.

This law still presents the danger of similar bad consequences. To the extent that foreign companies can still censor material we may see companies like Google who reluctantly censor material at government request replaced with foreign companies eager to please censoring government to curry favor. The net effect of this might be to create a second economy in censor friendly IT information. The last thing we want is to have a Chinese company position itself as a more censor-friendly alternative to google to all the oppressive regimes around the world.

So I'm unsure about the goodness of this bill. It may be on net positive or it may not.

What I would surely support would be an international treaty, signed by as many free societies as possible, that agrees to impose penalties on ANY company that colludes with government censorship. If the Chinese alternative to google can't avail itself of EU/US financial markets, get ad money from companies operating in these environments or otherwise access the free world it would prevent a censor friendly company from rising to offer an alternative to the free speech friendly services. Even better it would provide the best kind of pressure, internal demands by corporations who want to make money, on places like China to relax their censoring laws so their companies can compete in the world market.

Not to mention the fact that an international treaty like this would be more resistant to things like the US-Saudi friendship.

Let me see if I understand? (0, Offtopic)

Tzutzu (732838) | more than 7 years ago | (#17830826)

We will pass a law that say US companies should not provide info about the customers to governments.

Except to the US government and *IAA, because that is about combating terrorism and piracy.

Right?

China man say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17830838)

You block now round eye, or you no get Chinese Yen!!!!

Oh well, here goes my karma (2, Insightful)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 7 years ago | (#17831144)

Not to be a troll, but it's not these companies but rather the U.S. politicians that should have trouble sleeping at night! From the summary:

...Yahoo was under fire for recently turning over information to Chinese authorities that led to the arrest of a political dissident...Representative Tom Lantos summed up the mood of many of his colleagues by telling the companies, "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."

Meanwhile, AT&T is turning over phone records to our fricken' government without either a warrant or a subpeona, legislation like the Patriot Act and CALEA is trampling over 200 years of civil rights, and detainees are rotting in Guantanamo Bay while Alberto Gonzales is saying that there is no guaranteed right to habeas corpus in the Constitution.

Give me a break--it must take some serious cojones to point the finger at China while doing as much as possible to emulate them right here in the good ole U.S. of A. <shakes head in disgust>

hypocrisy (1)

alphamugwump (918799) | more than 7 years ago | (#17831192)

So, it's ok for the US to subponea for search records, but if China wants stuff blocked it is a major civil leberties violation? Something is a little weird here.
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