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Google Seeks Allies Against Censorship

A new online transparency report shows which Google services are being blocked in different countries. Whether the U.S. will use this information to challenge censorship as a trade barrier remains to be seen.

Recent government action on the issue has largely consisted of passing the buck by telling companies to do their part to fight efforts to undermine free expression. Following Google's claim that its intellectual property had been stolen as a result of cyber attack from China, which precipitated its decision to stop censoring search results in that country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech about Internet freedom and encouraged U.S. businesses to take a more proactive role in the fight against censorship.

Google incidentally tried that in China and was forced to retreat to Hong Kong, which may explain why businesses have not exactly been lining up to oppose censorship.

At a hearing in March, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin noted that in a year and a half, no new companies have joined the Global Network Initiative, an anti-censorship group, championed by Google, Micrsoft, and Yahoo.

So it is that Tuesday's announcement from Google is accompanied by an editorial in the International Herald Tribune penned by Drummond that repeats Google's call for allies that are willing to stand up for the information economy. Noting that about 40 governments today block the free flow of information -- a tenfold increase from a decade ago -- Drummond urges the governments around the world to use trade rules to fight censorship.

"[D]irect government blockage of an Internet service is tantamount to a customs official stopping certain goods at the border," he wrote. "A small business that advertises on Bing, Google or Yahoo, for example, cannot reach certain markets when the platform is effectively blocked -- or when access is slowed."

Meanwhile, substantive action on the part of the U.S. government isn't yet evident. Still, Google remains optimistic that it can encourage at least continued conversations on the subject.

"We're advocating that governments -- not just the U.S. -- design and enforce international rules that provide maximum protection against these trade barriers," said a Google spokesperson in an e-mail. "We were pleased to have U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk out to Google earlier this month to talk about these issues, and we're hopeful that governments around the world will have a conversation about the free flow of information and trade."

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