New Yorkers Sue China and Its Biggest Search Engine Firm Baidu Over Internet Censorship
Posted by Author on May 20, 2011
Eight New York residents are suing China and its biggest search engine company, accusing Baidu of conspiring with the government to censor pro-democracy content.
The lawsuit claims violations of the US constitution, and according to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, is the first of its type. In an unorthodox move, it names not only a company but also the Chinese government as defendants.
The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, more than a year after Google declared it would no longer censor search results in China, and rerouted internet users to its Hong Kong website.
Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo declined to comment.
According to the complaint filed in the US district court in Manhattan, Baidu acts as an “enforcer” of policies by the ruling Communist party in censoring such pro-democracy content as references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown.
This censorship suppresses the writings and videos of the plaintiffs, who are pro-democracy activists, to the extent that the materials do not appear in search results, the complaint said.
It also violates US laws because the censorship affects searches in America, according to the complaint.
“We allege a private company is acting as the arm and agent of a foreign state to suppress political speech, and permeate US borders to violate the First Amendment,” Stephen Preziosi, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview.
Preziosi said the alleged censorship also violates federal and New York civil rights laws, as well as New York’s human rights law, on the grounds that “an internet search engine is a public accommodation, just like a hotel or restaurant”.
The lawsuit seeks $16m (£10m) in damages, or $2m per plaintiff, but does not seek changes to Baidu’s policies.
“It would be futile to expect Baidu to change,” Preziosi said. The plaintiffs live in the borough of Queens in New York City and on Long Island.
China’s internet censorship practices are viewed as reflecting its belief that keeping a tight grip on information helps the government maintain control. There have been mounting concerns in China that open dissent on the internet could contribute to destabilising the country.
Searches for terms deemed sensitive by Chinese censors are routinely blocked, and search engines such as Baidu voluntarily filter searches.
China also blocks the social networking sites Facebook, Flickr and Twitter and YouTube, and President Hu Jintao has called for additional oversight and “mechanisms to guide online public opinion”.
Google effectively pulled out of China last spring by redirecting inquiries on its main Chinese-language search page to a website in Hong Kong, avoiding direct involvement in any censorship by the “great firewall of China”.
Renren, which went public on 4 May and runs a social networking site promoted as the “Facebook of China”, has warned that its business could be shut down if it failed to comply with prohibitions on content. That would include material that could be considered to impair China’s national dignity or was “socially destabilising”.
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