TR: So why do you think Google’s approach is still better than those by Yahoo and others?
JP: Yahoo says “We respect the local legislation and that’s that.” At least Google tried to find a compromise between its ethical values and its desire to do business in China. The compromise is that they will display a short message at the bottom of the page saying the results are censored. Google has also refused to host its mail servers in China. Yahoo accepted having its mail service hosted in China, which I think is a very dangerous decision.
TR: A Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to ten years in prison last September, after Yahoo’s Hong Kong operation divulged information that he’d sent an embarrassing e-mail, showing how the government pressured journalists not to report on the Tiananmen Square massacre. Did Yahoo have to hand over those records?
JP: When you operate [servers] in China you have no other choice. [So] if you don’t want to be a police informant, the right decision is to not host your e-mail servers in China.
TR: Tech companies often defend themselves by arguing that the bulk of the Internet’s information gets past the censors anyway, which will inevitably lead China toward a more open society. Why don’t you share their optimism?
JP: We’ve been monitoring Internet censorship in China for more than five years and the situation is not improving. There are more and more people connected to the Internet and more and more people publishing news on the Internet, yet there is less and less freedom of expression. That’s because the Chinese have acquired very sophisticated technology to filter bulletin boards, chat rooms, blogs – everything.
TR: Government censorship and surveillance is also expanding in the United States in the name of fighting terrorism. Do you think the U.S. technology leaders’ behavior in China may have encouraged tighter control of information in democratic countries?
JP: The fact that the U.S. and France and other countries agree sometimes to censor the Internet or to intercept communications is setting a bad example. We have very strong suspicions that it is selling its [filtering] technology to other dictatorships around the world, such as Zimbabwe, Belarus, and Cuba. We notice that when the Chinese visit this kind of country they always bring along [Chinese] Internet companies and their minister of telecommunications.