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Google Renews Call For Govt. To Stand Up To Censorship

The search engine and its lobbyists try to persuade the U.S. Congress to treat censorship as a barrier to trade.

In a post on Google's Public Policy Blog on Friday, Andrew McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, revisits his company's efforts to encourage the U.S. government to address censorship as a trade barrier.

"To industries that depend upon free flows of information to deliver their services across borders, censorship is a fundamental barrier to trade," said McLaughlin. "For Google, it is fair to say that censorship constitutes the single greatest trade barrier we currently face."

McLaughlin contrasts acceptable censorship -- to combat child pornography or copyright infringement -- with unwarranted censorship -- blocking YouTube in its entirety when selective blocking is possible.

So it is that Google's growing stable of lobbyists has been promoting unfettered access to information, or at least the unfettered access to Google.

"Just as the U.S. government has, in decades past, utilized its trade negotiation powers to advance the interests of other U.S. industries, we would like to see the federal government take to heart the interests of the information industries and treat the elimination of unwarranted censorship as a central objective of our bilateral and multilateral trade agendas in the years to come," said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin reports that "the uniform reaction to this argument in Washington has been the nodding of heads, typically coupled with a request to hear more about how this can practically be done. Clearly, it isn't going to happen overnight."

Clearly. In February, 2006, McLaughlin, along with senior policy executives from Microsoft and Yahoo, asked the Congressional Human Rights Caucus the same thing.

"[A]s a U.S.-based company that deals primarily in information, we have urged the United States government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade," McLaughlin said last year in a prepared statement.

And at the time, the government wasn't keen to rise to the challenge.

Congressman Tom Lantos, co-chair of the caucus, felt it was "patently absurd to foist this responsibility onto the federal government when these large, wealthy companies based in America -- a country that reveres free speech -- are fully capable of doing that themselves," according to Lynne Weil, the Congressman's press secretary.

Both Google and the government are fully capable of taking action to fight to censorship. The question is whether either will make an effort beyond "the nodding of heads."

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