China and Google have been sparring over Internet freedom. Google has refused to yield to China’s demands to censor its search results and China threatened not to renew Google’s operating license. Today, they came to an agreement: Google has put up a new landing page and redirects searches to its Hong Kong site, where they aren’t censored, and China renewed the license, Google reported on its blog. However, China censors those results through its “Great Firewall” on their way back.
Regardless of today’s developments, the basic problem remains: Chinese citizens do not have full access to information.
Secretary Clinton has made strong statements about the need to support Internet freedom around the world. President Obama has recently announced an upcoming state dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Let’s hope that censorship is on the agenda, and not just washed over with the dishes.
Meanwhile, other companies working in the Information and Communications Technology sector should follow Google’s example. Just this week the Global Network Initiative (GNI) held its board of directors’ meeting. The GNI—an initiative involving companies, academics, rights groups, and other stakeholders—aims to set guidelines for the industry that protect individuals’ rights to information and privacy.
Often lost in this debate is what Internet freedom means to people on the ground. That’s why Human Rights First brought the voices of “netizens” from around the world to the GNI meeting in this video below. As Belarussian journalist Iryna Vadanava drives home: for companies it’s business; for them it can be life or death.
Those participating in the Global Network Initiative understand what’s at stake. Working together on a set of guidelines for the industry, this initiative aims to make sure that companies do what they can to protect individuals’ rights. Let’s hope our elected leaders do the same.