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US companies refuse to bow to online surveillance

US Internet companies withdraw their business from Chinese censors; foreign journalists' email accounts hacked.
US Internet companies withdraw their business from Chinese censors; foreign journalists' email accounts hacked.

via IPI

Two US companies are defying Chinese censors. Internet company GoDaddy announced on 24 March that it will no longer sell websites with Chinese domain names because of the extreme controls demanded by Chinese authorities, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Two days earlier, Google confirmed that it would no longer censor the Chinese version of its search engine, report RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch. Google will be redirecting viewers to its uncensored Hong Kong site.

Google also plans to monitor and publicise any attempts at censorship of this site by Chinese authorities. The site has been subjected to intermittent censorship in recent days, but is back to normal. On 12 January, Google first announced that it was going to withdraw from China unless it could operate its search engine free of any kind of censorship or restrictions. The company came to this decision after discovering "highly sophisticated and targeted attacks" on Gmail users who are human rights activists, which were traced back to Chinese hackers.

Two years ago, only five percent of Chinese Internet users were aware that the Web they saw was censored, reports CPJ. But now there is much greater awareness and news reports about Google have acted as a "wake-up call for Chinese netizens." Now, millions of people in China who access Google will be able to see the search results their government does not want them to see.

"Google's decision to offer an uncensored search engine is an important step to challenge the Chinese government's use of censorship to maintain its control over its citizens," said Human Rights Watch.

Chinese authorities have requested that individuals and companies wanting to register a website must now provide them with copies of photo identification and business licences, and fill out and sign forms, explained GoDaddy. The company's existing clients were expected to comply with the rules; only 20 percent provided the documents. "We are concerned about the security of the individuals affected by the new requirements," said GoDaddy. "We are concerned about the chilling effects we believe the requirements could have on new domain name registrations." The Internet company also said it had been targeted by dozens of cyber-attacks this year and blamed Chinese authorities.

More than a dozen Chinese government agencies work to implement laws, regulations, policy guidelines and other legal tools to try to keep information and ideas from the Chinese people, reports Human Rights Watch. Many companies, including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, have supported this system by blocking terms they think the Chinese government would want them to censor.

Meanwhile, the Yahoo! email accounts of at least 10 foreign journalists based in China and Taiwan have been targeted by hackers in recent weeks, reports RSF.

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