Harsh words for US tech firms from House at China 'net hearings

Today's House hearings on the ethical responsibilities of US internet firms operating in China are reportedly the first such hearing to be open to bloggers. Any bloggers there, and filing posts? Let us know.

Update: watch the live webcast here: Link to stream.
Notes at bottom of this post.

Snip from NYT report by Tom Zeller:

In a crowded House hearing room, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, unleashed a scathing condemnation of four American Internet and technology companies — Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco — for a "sickening collaboration" with the Chinese government and for "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" there.

Mr. Smith's statements opened much anticipated hearings aimed at getting executives of the four companies to give a more complete accounting of their business dealings in China, and to air the concerns of critics who say the companies do business in China at the peril of human rights. Among the chief issues is the alteration of online products in the Chinese market — from search engines to blogging tools — to conform with the repressive requirements of the government there. Also of concern is the sale to China of Internet hardware that the Chinese government has been able to deploy in the surveillance of its online population, as well as the role American companies are being forced to play in the undemocratic imprisonment of Chinese citizens for online behavior that in the West would be considered simple free speech.

Executives on hand to testify today before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations on behalf of the four companies include Jack Krumholtz, managing director of federal government affairs and associate general counsel for Microsoft; Elliot Schrage, a vice president for corporate communications at Google; Mark Chandler, general counsel at Cisco Systems; and Michael J. Callahan, Yahoo's general counsel. Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat whose own Congressional Human Rights Caucus was snubbed by all four companies when it invited them to speak two weeks ago, had sharp words for the executives.

"I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night," Mr. Lantos said.

Link. Image: From left, Mark Chandler of Cisco, Elliot Schrage of Google, Jack Krumholtz of Microsoft and Michael Callahan of Yahoo at today's House hearing (courtesy Tom Zeller Jr./The New York Times).

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Update — live notes from a portion of the hearing:
Just tuning in to a portion of the hearing at 2PM PT, a panel with Libby Liu, President, Radio Free Asia; Qiang Xiao, Director, China Internet Project at University of California-Berkeley; Lucie Morillon, Reporters Without Borders; Harry Wu, China Information Center; Sharon Hom, Human Rights in China

China human rights activist Harry Wu, testifying about Cisco's involvement in aiding censorship with the sale of hardware to the PRC:
Wu says the money Cisco made from this transaction "smells like blood."

Lucie Morillon:
"One of the most disturbing arguments from companies is, either we comply or leave China… there is another choice, to negotiate. They need to gather as a united front and negotiate with Beijing…. longterm goal of PRC is not to have American companies be leaders in this market. China still needs them, or they would long ago have kicked them out of the country."

Sharon Hom:
"Yahoo sold Yahoo China to Alibaba, but retains significant ownership stake… board of directors of Alibaba is small… Yahoo can exercise shareholder rights and influence decisions, the argument that they have no control is disingenuous… PRC government's press conference yesterday shows that this hearing matters… Chinese government is paying attention, matters to them very much what this committee decides and what followup happens. You are being watched."

Qiang Xiao:
"Control of the internet in China does not only happen on national level. 14 government ministries in China can issue mandates to control what is available online, local governments exert control as well."

Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ):
"Democracy doesn't happen like magic. Countries are transformed into democracies because individuals pay a penalty to get there."

Harry Wu:
"The Cisco issue is not only an ethical or moral consideration, Cisco is violating American law. Congress has to look into it… Cisco documents show how to train the Chinese police. China only has one million policemen, that's not enough to do what they need. If you use our products, Cisco says, you will effectively have more police work. They are selling a security product to China to subvert the people. Shi Tao — one individual — was jailed because Yahoo offered IP data to the court. But how many other people have been jailed because Cisco trained the authorities there?"