U.S. senator wants Chinese companies to protect freedom of expression

U.S. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois questions a witness testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Constitution, Civil Rights, Human Rights, and the Law Subcommittee on 'Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims' during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., March 29, 2011.

Senator Durbin (D-Ill.) recently returned from a trip to China. While there, he says he tried to get online and look things up on Baidu. He says that when he tried to look up information on controversial subjects like the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989, he was unable to find much. Certainly much less than what he would find if he was searching back home.

That trip led to his letter, sent this week. It reads, in part:

As a member of the U.S. Congress, I am especially concerned about Baidu's Internet censorship because of your company's extensive business dealings in the United States. Baidu has been listed on NASDAQ since 2005. I understand that two of Baidu's five directors are American and that American institutions are significant investors in Baidu.

I am also concerned about recent reports that Baidu and Facebook may enter into a partnership to launch a social-networking site in China. I have previously expressed my view that Facebook does not have adequate safeguards in place to protect the human rights of its users. As demonstrated by recent developments in the Arab World, social networking technology is particularly susceptible to exploitation by governments. Let me assure you that I am not singling out Baidu for criticism. Nor is this a new concern for me. As the chairman of the U.S. Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over human rights issues, I have held hearings on the role of U.S. technology companies in protecting Internet freedom; written to dozens of American Internet companies about their human rights practices; and heard testimony from Obama administration officials, technology companies, and human rights activists.

Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that, with a few notable exceptions, the technology industry is failing to address the serious human rights challenges that it faces. As a result, I am working on legislation that would require technology companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights or face liability. Baidu and other public companies whose shares are traded on the U.S. stock exchange would be subject to this legislation.

Durbin is preparing legislation that would require U.S. tech companies to protect basic human rights or face liability. Baidu is based in China but it's traded in U.S. markets and two of its five directors are Americans. So Durbin says Baidu would be subject to such a law.

Durbin says given all the protests against oppressive governments around the world, he thinks the time is right for such a measure.

Also on this program, a real live farm in England will be run just like Farmville. People online making all the decisions about a farm they never actually visit. Sounds great! What could possibly go wrong?

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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