The December cyber-attacks against Google and a number of other tech companies originating from within China has earned the unanimous condemnation of the U.S. Senate. In a Feb. 3 resolution, the Senate called on the Chinese government to conduct a thorough review of the cyber-attacks and make the results of the investigation transparent.
The resolution also supports a recent initiative by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to encourage Internet freedom by promoting technology designed to circumvent electronic censorship and monitoring worldwide. The resolution also highlights the range of efforts within China to restrict press freedom and freedom of expression, especially on the Internet.
“The Senate spoke in one voice, calling on the Chinese government to investigate and explain the recent cyber-attacks and expressing serious concern about ongoing attempts by China and other countries to restrict press and Internet freedom,” Sen. Ted Kaufman said in a statement. “This resolution reaffirms freedom of expression and the press as cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy, and we will continue to take measures to promote these fundamental freedoms and rights globally. Governments who use technology to silence their citizens or restrict the free flow of information should consider themselves on notice.”
Google said Jan. 12 it will stop censoring searches on its Google.cn and reconsider the feasibility of doing business in China at all after the search giant reported cyber-attacks from within China aimed at gaining access to the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. Google also said 20 other companies from a wide range of businesses had suffered similar attacks.
To date, Google has taken no action.
Clinton said, “We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.”
A week later, in a major policy speech at Washington’s Newseum, Clinton said the U.S. is committed to freedom of speech and worship online, the ability to connect to the Internet anywhere, freedom from the fear of cyber-attacks, and the promise of the Internet to relieve global suffering in cases such as Haiti.
“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,” she said. “In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the Internet.”
The Chinese government, for its part, has said it had nothing to do with the attacks, accused the United States of protectionism and warned U.S. companies it expects Chinese Internet laws to be respected.
Reuters reported that Minister Wang Chen of China’s State Council Information Office said in an interview, “Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts. Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu added in another interview, “China welcomes international Internet businesses developing services in China according to the law. Chinese law proscribes any form of hacking activity.”
Google’s possible pullback from China comes at a time when Washington is attempting to persuade Beijing to curb its Internet censorship policies as part of the United States’ larger policy initiatives involving the intellectual property rights of companies doing business in China, where piracy rates are high.