May 19, 2011

Baidu Sued for Censorship in U.S.

The Chinese government and Baidu, Inc. were slapped with a censorship lawsuit, Reuters (News - Alert) is reporting.

Eight New York residents are citing violations of the U.S. constitution and have accused China’s biggest search engine of conspiring with its rulers to censor pro-democracy speech.

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Baidu acts as an “enforcer” of policies by the ruling Communist Party in censoring pro-democracy writings and videos to the extent that they do not appear in search results even when made within the country, which violates laws in the US Constitution.

Stephen Preziosi, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the alleged censorship 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 $16 million in damages, or $2 million per plaintiff, but does not seek changes to Baidu’s policies.

Those bringing the suit are not out to change Baidu’s policies, so the question as to why they’re suing remains open.

“It would be futile to expect Baidu to change,” Preziosi said.

The Chinese authorities are notorious for their strict controls over the Internet, using what is known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’.

Recently, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) experienced such censorship on a recent trip to China. Upon trying to perform a search on Baidu, Durbin was appalled to find out many words were censored.

Senator Durbin wrote a letter to Baidu’s CEO Robin Li, citing the experience he had using Baidu on his recent trip to China and how he was disappointed at the censorship he experienced. He then asked Baidu to clearly state its human rights policies, as he felt the censorship was in violation of said rights.

To end his statement of displeasure with Baidu, the Senator brought up another topic worthy of Internet discussion, asking if Baidu had any plans to partner up with Facebook (News - Alert) and, if so, what policies would be put in place to protect the users?

“As demonstrated by recent developments in the Arab world, social networking technology is particularly susceptible to exploitation by governments,” he wrote. He asked Baidu what safeguards would be implemented to protect users if the search company and Facebook do go ahead and launch a social networking site in China.

Google (News - Alert) famously moved its search business to Hong Kong owing to continued pressure to censor searches. Sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube are all banned in China.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.

Michelle Amodio is a TMCnet contributor. She has helped promote companies and groups in all industries, from technology to banking to professional roller derby. She holds a bachelor's degree in Writing from Endicott College and currently works in marketing, journalism, and public relations as a freelancer.

Edited by Jennifer Russell