Senator questions tech companies on China activities

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is seeking information from 30 technology companies in advance of a hearing he is planning on their human rights practices in China.

The move comes in response to Google's recently announced plans to stop censoring search results in China after discovering that its systems had been broken into by hackers based in China.

"I commend Google for coming to the conclusion that cooperating with the 'Great Firewall' of China is inconsistent with their human rights responsibilities," Durbin said in a statement.

Google discovered that not only had some of its intellectual property been stolen, but the Gmail accounts of activists supporting human rights in China had also been compromised.

Durbin asks the companies to detail their businesses in China and what measures, if any, they will implement to ensure that their products and services don't facilitate human rights abuses by the Chinese government. He also urges them to sign on to a code of conduct outlined by the Global Network Initiative.

Durbin sent letters to technology companies last year also asking them to support policies outlined by GNI. Companies including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have joined GNI. Still, Microsoft continues to censor search results in China and Yahoo is perhaps most notorious for handing over information to the Chinese government about a dissident who was then arrested and jailed.

Companies that did not respond at all to Durbin's original letter and that have now been sent new letters include Twitter, Toshiba, Acer and Juniper.

Others that did respond to the letter last year but were questioned again in the new letter include Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, eBay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, McAfee, News Corp., Nokia, Skype, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, Vodafone and Websense. Amazon, IAC, IBM, Oracle, Research In Motion and SAP were questioned for the first time.

Durbin asked the companies to reply by Feb. 19. He did not set a date for the hearing that he plans to hold on the subject.

Despite Google's announcement on Jan. 12 that it would stop censoring search results in China, it has not yet actually done so. During the company's earnings call on Jan. 21, CEO Eric Schmidt said Google hadn't yet stopped censoring and hoped to be able to remain in operation in China.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon