In a sign of growing opposition by U.S. internet companies in China to assisting the Chinese government in imposing censorship on Chinese computer users, GoDaddy has announced it is curtailing its activities in China and will no longer host new sites with “cn” domain names. Silicon Valley’s leading newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News reports:
A second prominent Internet company has joined Google in rejecting Chinese surveillance and censorship rules, as Google’s move to stop filtering its Chinese search results draws more attention to Internet freedom in Washington.
Saying it hosts many individual Web sites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, the Go Daddy Group said Wednesday it would stop hosting new sites with “.cn” domain names, rather than comply with government requirements to provide increasingly detailed information about its Chinese customers.
The world’s largest Internet domain name registrar told a congressional panel that its China operations had come under increasingly stringent surveillance rules since December. Chinese authorities demanded in February that Go Daddy, which hosts Web sites tied to Tibet and the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, provide color photographs and signed registration forms for all Chinese owners of its 27,000 .cn domain sites, said Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones.
Suspending new .cn Web sites “was a decision we made in our own right, based on our experience of having to contact Chinese nationals, collect their personal information and return that information to the government,” Jones told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “We made a decision we didn’t want to act as an agent for the Chinese government.”
–Mike Swift, “Joining Google, GoDaddy.com will halt some services in China,” San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 2010
GoDaddy.com officials testfied before a Congressional Committee on Wednesday. The Washington Post provides additional details:
GoDaddy.com, the world’s largest domain name registration company, told lawmakers Wednesday that it will cease registering Web sites in China in response to intrusive new government rules that require applicants to provide extensive personal data, including photographs of themselves.
The rules, the company said, are an effort by China to increase monitoring and surveillance of Web site content and could put individuals who register their sites with the firm at risk. The company also said the rules will have a “chilling effect” on new domain name registrations.
GoDaddy’s move follows Google’s announcement Monday that it will no longer censor search results on its site in China….
In December, China began to enforce a new policy that required any registrant of a new .cn domain name to provide a color, head-and-shoulders photograph and other business identification, including a Chinese business registration number and physical, signed registration forms. That data was to be forwarded to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a quasi-governmental agency. Most domain name registries require only a name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.
“We were immediately concerned about the motives behind the increased level of registrant verification being required,” Christine N. Jones, general counsel of the Go Daddy Group, told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Wednesday. “The intent of the procedures appeared, to us, to be based on a desire by the Chinese authorities to exercise increased control over the subject matter of domain name registrations by Chinese nationals.”
GoDaddy has been registering domain names since 2000 and has more than 40 million under management.
Jones said GoDaddy’s decision to stop registering new domains was unrelated to Google’s recent decision….”We decided we didn’t want to be agents of China,” she said.
–John Pomfret, Ellen Nakashima and Cecilia Kang, “China censors searches on Google’s Hong Kong-based search engine,” Washington Post, March 23, 2010
On Monday, March 22, Google ceased filtering search results within mainland China, redirecting searches to its Hong Kong site which had operated under fewer restrictions. By Tuesday, China was blocking access to “sensitive” sites on Google in Hong Kong as well.
China’s new restrictions on GoDaddy.com and Google reflect a worsening climate for U.S. businesses operating in China. But their signficance and importance go far beyond that. They are likely to become a source of growing friction between the United States and China, as the Obama administration has increasingly embraced a policy of support for the free flow of information over the internet.
Hillary Clinton’s Speech on Internet Freedom
In an important speech on internet freedom on January 21, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed what she termed “the freedom to connect”. She expressed the new policy forthrightly, saying in part:
Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. Now, at the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the troubles of his day. And years later, one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, worked to have these principles adopted as a cornerstone of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have provided a lodestar to every succeeding generation, guiding us, galvanizing us, and enabling us to move forward in the face of uncertainty.
So as technology hurtles forward, we must think back to that legacy. We need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles. In accepting the Nobel Prize, President Obama spoke about the need to build a world in which peace rests on the inherent rights and dignities of every individual. And in my speech on human rights at Georgetown a few days later, I talked about how we must find ways to make human rights a reality. Today, we find an urgent need to protect these freedoms on the digital frontiers of the 21st century.
There are many other networks in the world. Some aid in the movement of people or resources, and some facilitate exchanges between individuals with the same work or interests. But the internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms. Freedom of expression is first among them. This freedom is no longer defined solely by whether citizens can go into the town square and criticize their government without fear of retribution. Blogs, emails, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas, and created new targets for censorship.
Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world….
As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. In the demonstrations that followed Iran’s presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman’s bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government’s brutality. We’ve seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation’s leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country. In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights, the Iranian people have inspired the world. And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.
A connection to global information networks is like an on-ramp to modernity. In the early years of these technologies, many believed that they would divide the world between haves and have-nots. But that hasn’t happened. There are 4 billion cell phones in use today. Many of them are in the hands of market vendors, rickshaw drivers, and others who’ve historically lacked access to education and opportunity. Information networks have become a great leveler, and we should use them together to help lift people out of poverty and give them a freedom from want.
The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I’ve already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.
Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions. I hope that their competitors and foreign governments will pay close attention to this trend. The most recent situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest. And we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement. And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent.
The internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century. Now, the United States and China have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.
Now, ultimately, this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It’s about whether we live on a planet with one internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.
–Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks on Internet Freedom,” (The Newseum, Washington, D.C.), January 21, 2010.
Transcripts of Clinton’s remarks are available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu, on the State Department website (at the link above).
The Trenchant Observer
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