I’ve just been watching Senator Dorgan’s Internet Regulation in China hearing on C-SPAN; its actually been fascinating. On its face the hearing was an opportunity to reiterate that the US doesn’t approve of China’s human rights record. Praising Google for standing against China’s censorship policies was just the excuse to look tough on China, a perennial congressional favorite. But some of the details have been intriguing.

Of course the senators praise for Google was gushing. I particularly liked Senator Wu’s statement where he carefully said he wasn’t singling any company out for bad behavior but was instead praising Google and GoDaddy for good behavior. It wasn’t a condemnation for those that play ball in China, but if I were Microsoft this would be too close for comfort. Senator Chris Smith did basically call out Microsoft. Very interesting, I’d expect this to become a bigger news item over time.

GoDaddy, who has just announced they will no longer serve .cn domain names, gave the background on the story. Apparently for 6 years the .cn authority has required the basic registration info – name, email, phone, and physical address. As of December 2009 they will now require a verified photo ID. Worse yet, it is retroactive! My take on it is that GoDaddy is a low cost brand, and verifying photo IDs isn’t in line with their automated business model. They get to exit a potentially labor intensive business and get to claim altruistic intentions. This was an excellent business decision, and was well played.

Sharon Hom, the Executive Director from Human Rights in China, gave testimony that included an indictment of China’s lame response. Apparently in their response China claims that they “don’t sensor” the Internet, and Mrs. Hom called this “ludicrous”. I have no problem with this statement, but we who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Let me explain my devil’s advocacy…

We have laws that keep some materials off the Internet, such as underage porn, language that insights violence, hate speech, and illegally distributed copyrighted material. These restrictions are based on our current laws, adhered to by our corporations, and enforced by our legal system. One reason Google was never the number one search engine in China is because they restricted access to copyrighted works, per our laws, where as the #1 home grown Chinese search engine lets you find and download (most) music and movies.  Because China has fewer copyright restrictions (or at least less enforcement), their citizens can look down on us for restricting information that happens to be copyrighted. As another example, in the US you can’t read religious texts from certain religions because they have copyrighted their materials; I’m not exactly a supporter of this religion’s critics, but I do believe they are using a legal construct for censorship.

China has its own laws, in particular you can’t “insight subversion”.  On the face of it this could be equated to “insighting violence”. Sure, China takes it way too far, to the point where there is no fair comparison. But those in the US need to be careful how they criticize other nations when the US isn’t living the idealized libertarian dream either. Any censorship is censorship, no matter how well intentioned. To imply that the US doesn’t censor the Internet is ludicrous.

On a less serious note, a couple of items that tickled me:

  • In the opening remarks Senator Dorgan used the term “Nexus”, and it didn’t feel quite natural. Was this a subliminal endorsement for the Google phone?
  • GoDaddy’s Dana Kirkpatrick wasn’t at the hearing, but Christine Jones, their Executive VP and General Council was there. Some part of my brain expected some too-hot-for-TV shenanigans. Has GoDaddy really programed me that well?