"Fauna" at ChinaSMACK has done a valuable public service by hanging out in Chinese forums and translating netizen reaction to Google.cn's relocation to Hong Kong. Read the whole post here. Fauna observes that a lot of comments on the major Chinese web portals have been deleted, leaving up the ones most favorable to the Chinese government and most critical of Google. Keeping one step ahead of the censors - just to capture some of the more nuanced comments before they were deleted proved to be a challenge:
Many Chinese netizen comments have been deleted or hidden and most comments that remain visible clearly support the government or are critical of Google. You can see this in the translated comments from NetEase above.
On KDS, a popular Shanghai BBS discussion forum, I was able to find some comments in support of Google or critical of the government before they were deleted. KDS moderators first deleted posts with many replies before deleting the smaller posts with fewer replies. Many posts were deleted while I was still collecting comments from them.
One of the comments Fauna caught before it disappeared was this one:
"Wumao are rampant, they better secure their overtime pay. What we need is the truth, how are sensitive terms defined? What will not die is whatever TG [The Government] says, that everything that it does not like are sensitive words, keeping the people in the dark. "
The posting includes this cartoon, which doesn't really require translation:
[Translation: "Too f***ing stinky! I'm not f***ing eating with you guys anymore!"]
Will Microsoft's Bing now be content to eat s**t alongside Baidu? Or will they make a serious effort to improve the nutritional value of the Chinese Internet? I asked that question in a column for CNN.com yesterday.
On a related note, China Digital Times has translated orders from the State Council Information Office to news organizations and websites:
All chief editors and managers:
Google has officially announced its withdrawal from the China market. This is a high-impact incident. It has triggered netizens’ discussions which are not limited to a commercial level. Therefore please pay strict attention to the following content requirements during this period:
A. News Section
1. Only use Central Government main media (website) content; do not use content from other sources
2. Reposting must not change title
3. News recommendations should refer to Central government main media websites
4. Do not produce relevant topic pages; do not set discussion sessions; do not conduct related investigative reporting;
5. Online programs with experts and scholars on this matter must apply for permission ahead of time. This type of self-initiated program production is strictly forbidden.
6. Carefully manage the commentary posts under news items.
B. Forums, blogs and other interactive media sections:
1. It is not permitted to hold discussions or investigations on the Google topic
2. Interactive sections do not recommend this topic, do not place this topic and related comments at the top
3. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which attack the Party, State, government agencies, Internet policies with the excuse of this event.
4. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which support Google, dedicate flowers to Google, ask Google to stay, cheer for Google and others have a different tune from government policy
5. On topics related to Google, carefully manage the information in exchanges, comments and other interactive sessions
6. Chief managers in different regions please assign specific manpower to monitor Google-related information; if there is information about mass incidents, please report it in a timely manner.
We ask the Monitoring and Control Group to immediately follow up monitoring and control actions along the above directions; once any problems are discovered, please communicate with respected sessions in a timely manner.
Tomorrow the Congressional Executive China Commission will conduct a hearing titled Google and Internet Control in China: A Nexus Between Human Rights and Trade? They had originally invited me to testify in a similarly titled hearing, "China, the Internet and Google," which was postponed and rescheduled twice: the first attempt was foiled by the Great Snowcalypse; the second attempt scheduled for March 1st was postponed again at the last minute for some reason that isn't entirely clear. Meanwhile I had already gone and written my testimony. When they rescheduled the hearing they said I was no longer invited, as they wanted the hearing to have different witnesses from recent related hearings in both the House and Senate. Given that I appeared in both hearings it seems reasonable that they'd want to hear from some other people.
Since I put some effort into my testimony, however, and since it drills down in a lot more detail on China than my testimony for the other hearings, I think there is some value in my sharing it with the world.
WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE: A Commission staffer just called me to say that they had meant to contact me about including the written testimony in the hearing's official record, but that the email somehow had not been sent. They now plan to distribute copies of it at the hearing and may quote from it during the proceedings. Click here for the updated PDF or click here for the web version. Some highlights:From the introduction:
China is pioneering a new kind of Internet-age authoritarianism. It is demonstrating how a non-democratic government can stay in power while simultaneously expanding domestic Internet and mobile phone use. In China today there is a lot more give-and-take between government and citizens than in the pre-Internet age, and this helps bolster the regime’s legitimacy with many Chinese Internet users who feel that they have a new channel for public discourse. Yet on the other hand, as this Commission’s 2009 Annual Report clearly outlined, Communist Party control over the bureaucracy and courts has strengthened over the past decade, while the regime’s institutional commitments to protect the universal rights and freedoms of all its citizens have weakened.
Google’s public complaint about Chinese cyber-attacks and censorship occurred against this backdrop. It reflects a recognition that China’s status quo – at least when it comes to censorship, regulation,and manipulation of the Internet – is unlikely to improve any time soon, and may in fact continue to get worse.Overview of Chinese Internet controls
Chinese government attempts to control online speech began in the late 1990’s with a focus on the filtering or “blocking” of Internet content. Today, the government deploys an expanding repertoire of tactics.
In other words, filtering is just one of many ways that the Chinese government limits and controls speech on the Internet. The full text then gives descriptions and explanations of the other tactics, but in brief they include:
I then describe a number of efforts by Chinese netizens to push back against these tactics, which include (see the full text for further explanation):
I end with a set of recommendations. Once again, see the full text for explanations, but here is the basic list:
Many of China’s 384 million Internet users are engaged in passionate debates about their communities’ problems, public policy concerns, and their nation’s future. Unfortunately these public discussions are skewed, blinkered, and manipulated – thanks to political censorship and surveillance. The Chinese people are proud of their nation’s achievements and generally reject critiques by outsiders even if they agree with some of them. A democratic alternative to China’s Internet-age authoritarianism will only be viable if it is conceived and built by the Chinese people from within. In helping Chinese “netizens” conduct an un-manipulated and un-censored discourse about their future, the United States will not imposing its will on the Chinese people, but rather helping the Chinese people to take ownership over their own future.
China's insomniac twitterati were on fire this afternoon U.S. time, powered no doubt by much caffeine and sugar in the the wee hours of the morning in China. Half an hour before Google's David Drummond posted his announcement that Google.cn is now effectively operating from Google.com.hk, Guangzhou-based open source programmer @LEMONed broke the news that google.cn was being redirected to the Hong Kong service. Reacting to the news, @wentommy quipped: "One Google, One World; One China, No Google."
As of now (still early morning in Beijing), Google.com.hk is accessible from mainland China although specific search results for sensitive terms result in a browser error - or in other words, are blocked. Same as it's always been for sensitive searches on Google.com from inside mainland China. This is network filtering and would happen automatically as part of the "great firewall" Internet filtering system.
The ball is now in the Chinese government's court in two ways:
1) Whether they will block all of google.com.hk, which until now has not been blocked. If they are smart they will just leave the situation as is and stop drawing media attention to their censorship practices. The longer this high profile fracas goes on, the greater Chinese Internet users awareness will be about the lengths to which their government goes to blinker their knowledge of the world. That may inspire more people to start learning how to use circumvention tools for getting around the censorship. Chinese censorship is only effective if a large percentage of the population isn't very conscious of what they're missing. As I like to explain it: if you're born with tunnel vision you assume it's normal until somehow you're made aware that life without tunnel vision is both possible and much better. The longer this story remains in the headlines, the more people will become conscious of their tunnel vision and think about ways to eliminate it.
2) Whether they allow Google to retain its ad sales and R&D businesses in China. Google has now removed the part of the business that might have defied Chinese law, relocating it to a jurisdiction where websites are not required to censor political speech. The remaining parts of Google's business should be able to operate within the confines of Chinese law without much problem. If the Chinese government is smart, they will declare victory for having forced Google to back down and remove its potentially illegal operation from their jurisdiction. They should say they welcome all foreign law-abiding businesses and look forward to working with Google as long as it abides by Chinese law. If they punish Google further for events of the past few months, that will further feed the anxiety of a foreign business community who have already been complaining of unfair and politicized treatment, and it will cause the U.S.-China business and trade relationship to deteriorate further in ways that I would think are not in China's interest - certainly not in the Chinese people's interest.
As it so happens, I interviewed David Drummond on December 15th for the Index on Censorship, but due to the magazine's long production time they're just publishing it now, with an update that we did with him via e-mail after the January 12th announcement. They've posted it online today. I think a lot of it remains very relevant.
UPDATE1: For journalists trying to get their heads around this story Andrew Lih has an excellent primer on the basic facts and background you need to know.
UPDATE2: The Chinese government is reacting in a knee-jerk and counterproductive manner which implies that they think they should have jurisdiction over websites hosted on computer servers physically beyond their borders, and which implies disrespect for the Hong Kong Basic Law to which the CCP made a clear commitment. See Reuters for the text of the Chinese official comments on Google.
ADDENDUM: Here's the post I wrote in 2006 when Google went into China with Google.cn: Google in China: degrees of evil final conclusion: "At the end of the day, this compromise puts Google a little lower on the evil scale than many other internet companies in China. But is this compromise something Google should be proud of? No. They have put a foot further into the mud. Now let's see whether they get sucked in deeper or whether they end up holding their ground."
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):
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:"
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.
(a) ESTABLISHMENT OF THE INTERNET FREEDOM FOUNDATION. - The National Science Foundation shall establish the Internet Freedom Foundation. The Internet Freedom Foundation shall -Whoever runs this foundation will have their work cut out for them in sorting out its strategies, goals, and priorities - and dealing with a great deal of thorny politics. The Falun Gong-affiliated Global Internet Freedom Consortium have been arguing that they were unfairly passed over for recent State Department grants which were given to other groups working on different tools that help you get around Internet blocking - "circumvention tools" as the technical community call them. For the past year they've been engaged in an aggressive campaign to lobby congress and the media to ensure they'll get a slice of future funds. (For examples of the fruits of their media lobbying effort see here, here, and here).(1) award competitive, merit-reviewed grants, cooperative aggreements, or contracts to private industry, universities, and other research and development organizations to develop deployable technologies to defeat Internet suppression and censorship; and(b) LIMITATION ON AUTHORITY. - Nothing in this Act shall be interpreted to authorize any action by the United States to interfere with foreign national censorship in furtherance of law enforcement aims that are consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
(2) award incentive prizes to private industry, universities, and other research and development organizations to develop deployable technologies to defeat Internet suppression and censorship.
- Internet circumvention is hard. It’s expensive. It can make it easier for people to send spam and steal identities.While circumvention tools remain worthy of support as part of a basket of strategies, I agree with Ethan that circumvention is never going to be the silver bullet that some people make it out to be, for all the reasons he outlines in his blog post, which deserves to be read in full. As Ethan points out, as I pointed out in my own testimony, and as my research on Chinese blog censorship published last year has demonstrated, circumvention does nothing to help you access content that has been removed from the Internet completely - which is the main way that the Chinese government now censors the Chinese-language Internet. In my testimony I suggested several other tools and activities that require equal amount of focus:
- Circumventing censorship through proxies just gives people access to international content – it doesn’t address domestic censorship, which likely affects the majority of people’s internet behavior.
- Circumventing censorship doesn’t offer a defense against DDoS or other attacks that target a publisher.
- We need to shift our thinking from helping users in closed societies access blocked content to helping publishers reach all audiences. In doing so, we may gain those publishers as a valuable new set of allies as well as opening a new class of technical solutions.
- If our goal is to allow people in closed societies to access an online public sphere, or to use online tools to organize protests, we need to bring the administrators of these tools into the dialog. Secretary Clinton suggests that we make free speech part of the American brand identity – let’s find ways to challenge companies to build blocking resistance into their platforms and to consider internet freedom to be a central part of their business mission. We need to address the fact that making their platforms unblockable has a cost for content hosts and that their business models currently don’t reward them for providing service to these users.
Which brings us to the issue of corporate responsibility for free expression and privacy on the Internet. I've been working with the Global Network Initiative for the past several years to develop a voluntary code of conduct centered on a set of basic principles for free expression and privacy based on U.N. documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international legal conventions. It is bolstered by a set of implementation guidelines and evaluation and accountability mechanisms, supported by a multi-stakeholder community of human rights groups, investors, and academics all dedicated to helping companies do the right thing and avoid making mistakes that restrict free expression and privacy on the Internet.
So far, however, only Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have joined. Senator Durbin's March 2nd Senate hearing focused heavily on the question of why other companies have so far failed to join, what it would take to persuade them to join, and if they don't join whether laws should be passed that induce greater public accountability by companies on free expression and privacy. He has written letters to 30 U.S. companies in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. He expressed great displeasure in the hearing with most of their responses, and further disappointment that no company (other than Google which is already in the GNI) even had the guts to send a representative to testify in the hearing. Durbin announced that he will "introduce legislation that would require Internet companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights or face civil or criminal liability.” It is my understanding that his bill is still under construction, and it's not clear when he will introduce it (he's been rather preoccupied with healthcare and other domestic issues, after all). Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), who convened Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing is also reported to be considering his own bill. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the ranking Republican at that hearing, made a plug for the Global Online Freedom Act of 2009, a somewhat revised version of a bill that he first introduced in 2006.
I said at the hearing that the GNI probably wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the threat of Smith's legislation. I was not, however, asked my opinion on GOFA's specific content. Since GOFA's 2006 introduction I have critiqued it a number of times (see for example here, here, and here). As the years have passed - especially in the past year as the GNI got up and running yet most companies have still failed to engage meaningfully with it - I have come to see the important role legislation could play in setting industry-wide standards and requirements, which companies can then tell governments they have no choice but to follow. That said, I continue to have concerns about parts of GOFA's approach. Here is a summary of the current bill written by the Congressional Research Service (I have bolded the parts of concern):
5/6/2009--Introduced.My biggest concern has to do with the relationship GOFA would create between U.S. companies and the U.S. Attorney General. If the AG is made arbiter of whether content or account information requested by local law enforcement is for "legitimate law enforcement purposes" or not, that means the company has to share the information - which in the case of certain social networking services may include a great deal of non-public information about the user, who his or her friends are, and what they're saying to each other in casual conversation. Letting the U.S. AG review the insides of this person's account would certainly violate that user's privacy. It also puts companies at a competitive disadvantage in markets where users - even those who don't particularly like their own government - would consider an overly close relationship between a U.S. service provider and the U.S. government not to be in their interest. Take this hypothetical situation for example: An Egyptian college student decides to use a social networking site to set up a group protesting the arrest and torture of his brother. The Egyptian government demands the group be shut down and all account information associated with it handed over. In order to comply with GOFA, the company shares this student's account information and all content associated with that protest group with the U.S. Attorney General. What is the oversight to ensure that this information is not retained and shared with other U.S. government agencies interested in going on a fishing expedition to explore friendships among members of different Egyptian opposition groups? Why should we expect that user to be ok with such a possibility?
Global Online Freedom Act of 2009 - Makes it U.S. policy to: (1) promote the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media; (2) use all appropriate instruments of U.S. influence to support the free flow of information without interference or discrimination; and (3) deter U.S. businesses from cooperating with Internet-restricting countries in effecting online censorship. Expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) the President should seek international agreements to protect Internet freedom; and (2) some U.S. businesses, in assisting foreign governments to restrict online access to U.S.-supported websites and government reports and to identify individual Internet users, are working contrary to U.S. foreign policy interests. Amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require assessments of electronic information freedom in each foreign country. Establishes in the Department of State the Office of Global Internet Freedom (OGIF). Directs the Secretary of State to annually designate Internet-restricting countries. Prohibits, subject to waiver, U.S. businesses that provide to the public a commercial Internet search engine, communications services, or hosting services from locating, in such countries, any personally identifiable information used to establish or maintain an Internet services account. Requires U.S. businesses that collect or obtain personally identifiable information through the Internet to notify the OGIF and the Attorney General before responding to a disclosure request from an Internet-restricting country. Authorizes the Attorney General to prohibit a business from complying with the request, except for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes. Requires U.S. businesses to report to the OGIF certain Internet censorship information involving Internet-restricting countries. Prohibits U.S. businesses that maintain Internet content hosting services from jamming U.S.-supported websites or U.S.-supported content in Internet-restricting countries. Authorizes the President to waive provisions of this Act: (1) to further the purposes of this Act; (2) if a country ceases restrictive activity; or (3) if it is the national interest of the United States.
As Internet law rapidly evolves, countries have repeatedly and successfully demanded that information be controlled or monitored, even when that information is hosted outside their borders. Forcing US companies to locate their servers outside IRCs [Internet Restricting Countries] would only make their services less reliable; it would not make them less regulable.Then there is the problem of Internet Restricting Country designations themselves. I have long argued that it is problematic to divide the world into "internet restricting countries" and countries where we can assume everything is just fine, not to worry, no human rights concerns present. First of all I think that the list itself is going to quickly turn into a political and diplomatic football which will be subject to huge amounts of lobbying and politics, and thus will be very difficult to add new countries to the list. Secondly, regimes can change fast: in between annual revisions of the list you can have a coup or a rigged election whose victors demand companies to hand over dissident account information and censor political information, but companies are off the hook - having "done nothing illegal." Finally, while I am not drawing moral equivalence between Italy and Iran I do believe there is no country on earth, including the United States, where companies are not under pressure by government agencies to do things that arguably violate users' civil rights. Policy that acknowledges this honestly is less likely to hurt U.S. companies in many parts of the world where the last thing they need is for people to be able to provide "documentary proof" that they are extensions of the U.S. government's geopolitical agendas.
If the goal of GOFA is to discourage US companies from violating human rights, then it will probably be successful. But if the goal of the Act is to make the Internet more free and more safe, and not just push rights violations on foreign companies, then more must be done.
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I'm back on Capitol Hill today to testify in the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. My full written testimony submitted for the record is here. The hearing will be webcast live on the House Foreign Relations Committee website here, and I believe the video will be archived on that page as well.
Yesterday members of the House launched an Internet Freedom Caucus and the Senate will be launching one as well later this month. Later this week I will write up my thoughts about Washington's recent flurry of activity on "Internet Freedom," including various efforts at legislation, funding to fight censorship and surveillance, and voluntary industry codes like the Global Network Initiative (with which I am actively involved). Meanwhile, here are the details of today's hearing:
You are respectfully requested to attend the following open hearing of the Full Committee to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
At 10:00am Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday I will be testifying in my first Senate hearing. Each witness gets five minutes to make an oral statement, followed by Q&A. We were also invited to provide longer written
testimony for the record.
Here's the formal announcement from the committee website:
San Francisco, CA