Google, Yahoo and Censorship

Yahoo’s shareholders have joined Google’s in rejecting an anti-censorship proposal.  The ethical implications of this are immediately clear.  What may be less clear is the message this is sending to corporate America, specifically to the internet and communications giants.  From Slashdot:

Matthew Skala writes “The BBC reports that Yahoo! has rejected a shareholder proposal to adopt an anti-censorship policy, as well as one to set up a human rights committee to review the impact of Yahoo!’s operations in places like China. The interesting proposals are numbers 6 and 7 in the proxy statement available through EDGAR. This news comes on the heels of jailed Chinese reporter Shi Tao, suing Yahoo! for its involvement in his conviction, and Google’s rejection of a similar proposal. The anti-censorship proposal was submitted by the same groups (several New York City pension funds) as the Google proposal. The proxy statement also includes the Board’s recommendations — “strongly oppose[ing]” both proposals — with explanations of their reasoning.”

From the BBC article, you have two explanations for why these firms insist on sticking with censorship:

But Yahoo insists it must comply with local laws in areas where it operates.

The internet firms argue it is better to offer Chinese users some information than none at all.

The first explanation is the most telling.  It is less a reason, more an excuse.  If Yahoo had been around during nazi Germany’s reign, would they have complied with their “local laws”?  What happens when one of the dissidents Yahoo turns over is tortured and killed by the Chinese government?  At some point one must draw a distinction between the nearly holy perceived authority of written law and the actual justice of said law.  Civil disobedience isn’t a radical act limited to protesters.  It is a fundamental responsibility of all citizens to oppose unjust laws.

The second explanation is somewhat in line with US trade policy towards China in general.  The idea is that human rights and freedom will go along with our increased economic activity.  The problem with this is censorship severely limiting the positive effects of trade.  If Google or Yahoo were to pull their services, the Chinese would notice.  If the biggest search engines in the world no longer worked, how would that make the government look?

How genuine  is this argument anyway?  Is letting a Chinese user use google to find a state approved news article on why Taiwan might need to be invaded worth getting a dissident thrown in jail and possibly tortured for expressing his political opinion?

Also the policy of not revealing censored sites says a lot about the companies:

Neither Yahoo nor any other company has released a list of websites that have been de-listed for their political and religious content.

If they did, that would provide powerful evidence against the motives and effects of the Chinese government’s actions.  It would also serve to let the censored sites in on their own prohibition.

By continuing to support censorship, Yahoo and Google are doing more than supporting a repressive regime.  They are sending the message to other corporations that this is how companies should act with regard to human rights.

The arguments put forth by the companies ring hollow, and what we are left with is corporations that do not want to see lose a major market, and are willing to compromise the spirit of the laws of the countries for profit.  It puts that desire for profit above the human rights of the communities served.


Pardon Romney’s Credibility

Digby, in a piece that also takes Rudy to task, really slams Mitt Romney’s credibility into the ground.  Romney made a point of not pardoning anyone, so he could say we should leave justice “up to juries”.  Not even a decorated Iraq War vet whose crime entailed shooting another kid with a bb gun when he was 13!

When talking with Wolf Blitzer about Scooter Libby, suddenly Mitt Romney is in favor of pardons.  For the lying scoundrel who helped out an active CIA agent working on weapons intelligence, and who took the legal fall for Cheney and Rove.  He’d pardon that guy.

Romney’s major obstacle during the campaign season is his credibility.  He is at war with his past, a past that got him elected governor of Massachusetts, but would not play with his targeted national audience.  As Joan Vennochi writes:

The good news for Romney?

The test for his presidential quest isn’t going to be whether he is conservative enough.

The bad news?

The test is whether he is trustworthy enough. How much trust can Republican primary voters reasonably invest in a politician who changed so many positions? How good is Romney’s word today?

This is bad news for a candidate who is so badly out of step with his own words and actions.  Changing your position to reflect new wisdom and experience is highly desirable in a candidate.  But changing your opinions quickly and transparently to cater to a specific audience is obvious, and op ed columnists and bloggers aren’t the only people who pick up on it.  Voters will, and quickly.

His position on pardons is nakedly self serving.  Pardon a political operative who played ball and outed an active agent who served the public, but don’t pardon a war vet whose dream is to become a police officer, and continue to serve the public.

If Romney were to get into office, which Romney would America have elected, and which Romney will actually serve out his term?  The only Romney who is actually running:  The salesman.