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Protecting Internet Access

The Chinese government goes to great lengths in its attempt to keep politically sensitive information from Internet users in China. Officials in China say that all Internet service providers operating in China, including U.S. companies, must restrict access to content the Chinese government deems "harmful to public interest." This includes pornography and material related to financial scams, but it also includes political content at odds with official Chinese government policies.

As a result, U.S. companies like Yahoo and Google have tailored their Internet search services in China to exclude many search results about human rights, Tibet, Taiwan, and other topics Chinese authorities may find sensitive. Internet users who search for such topics will often find websites produced by the Chinese government topping the list of results. Saria Rees-Roberts, a spokeswoman for the independent monitoring group Amnesty International, says such restrictions bring up the "whole issue of freedom of expression":

"This is the latest in a string of examples of global Internet companies who are caving into pressure from the Chinese government and censoring their Internet sites in one way or the other."

The U.S. State Department has set up a task force to investigate the threats that repressive regimes pose to the free flow of information and ideas over the Internet. Josette Shiner, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, says the goal "is ensuring maximum access to information":

"We know throughout the world . . . that the tools of repression, the tools of censorship are many and varied. Certainly in the technological age, we see new manifestations of that. This is a challenge not only for our companies but for our citizens abroad, for the American government, as we seek to affirm the principles of human rights and access to information, human dignity, [and] human freedom."

Ms. Shiner says that "Since its launch a little over a decade ago, the Internet has proven to be the greatest purveyor of news and information in history . . . and a censor's nightmare. The U.S., she says, will do everything it can "to ensure maximum access to information over the Internet and to ensure minimum success by censors to . . . silence legitimate debate."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.