In an open letter today, Reporters Without Borders urged Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to raise the issues of online censorship and the repression of cyber-dissidents when he has Chinese President Hu Jintao to dinner at his home in Seattle on 18 April at the start of Hu’s visit to the United States.
“Dear Mr. Gates,
We would like to ask you discuss Internet censorship, an issue of which you are undoubtedly aware, when you dine with President Hu on 18 April. We would also like you to mention our concerns about the repression of Chinese cyber-dissidents - people who use the Internet to advocate democracy - 48 of whom are currently in prison in China.
As you may know, our organisation has been campaigning for many years to get the major Internet sector corporations to behave ethically when operating in repressive countries.
As part of our efforts, we have written several letters to executives in your company expressing concern about certain Microsoft practices - letters that have not been answered. We disapprove of your company’s decision to censor the Chinese version of your blog tool MSN Spaces. This service automatically rejects search strings such as “4 June” (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre) or “human rights in China.” We were also shocked by Microsoft’s decision last December to close down the blog of a very popular Chinese blogger, Michael Anti, as a result of pressure from the Chinese authorities.
There is a need for Internet sector companies to begin to reflect about the consequences of their activities in countries such as China.
With a view to advancing the debate on this issue, we issued six concrete proposals in January for how companies could respect free expression while pursuing their activities. For example, we proposed banning search engines and content providers from installing automatic filters that censor so-called “protected” key words such as “human rights” and “democracy.” We also suggested that any request for the closure of a site hosted by a US company should require the approval of a US court, and that the same should apply to requests for information about your clients.
We are also supporting the Global Online Freedom Act, a bill proposed to the US House of Representatives in February by Rep. Christopher Smith that would regulate the operations of Internet companies in repressive countries.
We thank you in advance for taking account of our request.”
The letter is signed by Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.
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