Some Chinese netizens who feel caught between Google and their government have written an open letter to "relevant Chinese government ministries and Google Inc." It's got a very long preamble which I hope somebody will take the time to translate in full. [MONDAY NOONTIME UPDATE: A full translation has now been completed here.] In a nutshell, it expresses the view that Chinese Internet users have been left in the dark. While it's assumed that the Chinese government would seek to keep its people in the dark - hence its censorship in the first place - they find it unfair that Google has not provided them with enough information to form educated and fact-based opinions about what's going on. The authors raise a list of questions they want answered (corrections to my rough translation welcome in the comments section):
- Did Google meet the requirements of Chinese law in censoring material related to porn, violence, and gambling?
- How were the Chinese government's censorship demands communicated to Google? From which ministry? According to what legal processes? Were there any mechanisms for correcting mistakes or channels for appeal?
- What content did the Chinese government require Google to self-censor? Aside from sex, violence and gambling, what else was included? How was the censorship decided for topics such as mining disasters, the brick kiln slave children, Yilishen, violent evictions, Sanlu milk powder, Deng Yujiao, the governor's confiscation of a journalist's recorder, the Shanxi vaccine scandal, and other incidents? We cannot accept violation of the public's right to access such public interest information.
- When it comes to activities by government leaders and ministries that violate the constitution and the laws beneath it, is it necessary to carry out unconstitutional censorship?
- Why can't the Internet industry, including Google, Baidu, and ICT companies accept public supervision and resolve the content regulation problem in an open manner? Including but not limited to cooperation with an independent third-party citizens' body?
- What is the status of talks between Google and the Chinese government? What problems have been discussed? Cannot the irreconcilable positions of each side be clearly revealed to the public?
- If Google.cn were to no longer exist, or if China were to further block other Google services, has the Chinese government considered how their blocking of foreign websites and censorship of domestic websites violates Chinese citizens' right to scientific, educational, environmental, clean energy and other information? How will this loss be lessened or compensated for?
The letter concludes with several statements about censorship. "We support necessary censorship of Internet content and communications, whether it is on Google or any other foreign or domestic company," the authors write. "But we hope that such censorship should be conducted as follows:"
- It should be based on clear laws, the related regulations and censorship procedures should not violate China's constitution and laws. Vague censorship standards result in over-censorship or make it impossible to self-censor.
- Pre-censorship should not be carried out, as the right to free expression as guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and laws must not be violated.
- The procedures must be transparent, with clear and distinct censorship processes and steps. The censorship must be carried out by a clearly specified government department. It shouldn't be so vague that it is carried out by "relevant departments" which the public cannot locate.
- There should be a channel for appeals by netizens and by companies so that anybody who objects to a particular act of censorship can obtain reconsideration or file suit. Chinese legal bodies should clearly designated a channel for redress.
- The Chinese people's attention to and discourse about matters of public concern must not be obstructed. The public's right to study, scientific inquiry, communication, and commercial activity must not be inhibited.
The letter above also shows that this incident has sparked a debate among Chinese digerati about how Internet companies should be held accountable not only to - but by - the public.
Google executives never responded to Chinese blogger Isaac Mao's open letter to them in 2007, offering the help and advice of Chinese netizens on how to do good and avoid doing evil in China. Given that the Chinese government is unlikely to respond to this latest letter, and given that its authors have taken a risk to speak out, I hope that Google will demonstrate that it truly does care about Chinese netizens and answer their questions.