Chinese chickens coming home to roost in Washington

The NYT has an interesting report on the fallout in Washington of the capitulation of Yahoo, Google, Cisco and Microsoft to the requirements of the Chinese regime.

Now the companies are being pressed in Washington for fuller answers about their business practices in China and the implications for human rights. That pressure will escalate today when the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations questions officials of the four technology companies, along with other witnesses critical of their activities.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, plans to introduce legislation by week’s end that would restrict an Internet company’s ability to censor or filter basic political or religious terms — even if that puts the company at odds with local laws in the countries where it now operates.

Mr. Smith’s legislation, called the Global Online Freedom Act, however, would render much of what the Internet companies are currently doing in China illegal.

Among the act’s provisions is the establishment of an Office of Global Internet Freedom, which would establish standards for Internet companies operating abroad. In addition to prohibiting companies from filtering out certain political or religious terms, it would require them to disclose to users any sort of filtering they undertake.

Separately, the State Department announced the formation of a new Global Internet Freedom Task Force yesterday, charged with examining efforts by foreign governments “to restrict access to political content and the impact of such censorship efforts on U.S. companies.”

I bet those pesky Chinese are quaking in their boots.

The NYT report also has some interesting further information about the extent to which Yahoo has compromised itself:

The company, which has been providing Web services in China since 1999, has been criticized for filtering the results of its China-based search engine. But its bigger problems began last fall when human rights advocates revealed that in 2004, a Chinese division of the company had turned over to Chinese authorities information on a journalist, Shi Tao, using an anonymous Yahoo e-mail account. Mr. Shi, who had sent a government missive on Tiananmen Square anniversary rites to foreign colleagues, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders, a group based in Paris, revealed that a Chinese division of Yahoo had provided information to authorities that contributed to the conviction in 2003 of Li Zhi, a former civil servant who had criticized local officials online. Mr. Li is serving eight years in prison.