A joint Congressional Committee is examining Internet censorship in China at a hearing today. The Congressional Executive Committee on China is concerned about the various tools China uses to censor and filter Internet content and how this raises human rights and may violate existing trade agreements.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association said that companies for too long have been left on their own to deal negotiate with other nations, but CCIA said it appreciated the USTR’s recent formal inquiry into China’s censorship practices. Black told the committee that to those concerned about the human rights issues, tackling the trade issues may seem “akin to going after Al Capone for tax evasion.”

The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:

“Addressing Chinese censorship as a trade barrier is a legitimate, multilateral and potentially effective approach that needs to be pursued by our government at the highest levels. The USTR will be examining the scope of China’s Internet censorship soon and will know more how it represents a non-tariff trade barrier, which would violate WTO agreements.

“Even though the WTO allows exceptions to its rules for matters such as national security, it also requires that all regulations and restrictions be transparent, provide due process to affected parties, be the least restrictive as possible and apply equally to foreign and domestic players. As of today, China complies with none of these requirements.

“The Chinese government censors, blocks and discriminates against foreign-based web services and content, directly or indirectly advantaging domestic Chinese firms. It has repeatedly blocked sites and services, including Facebook, Flickr, Google and Twitter, singling out U.S. companies for censorship even when Chinese-owned services carry the same, banned content. This double standard strongly suggests that the motivation for censorship is often protectionism rather than morals.

“In this Commission’s most recent annual report, it correctly identified a troubling aspect of China’s Internet censorship regime, where China uses vague standards of liability and places the burden of enforcing those standards on service providers. Pending IP enforcement legislation before the House and Senate (S. 968 and H.R. 3261) share some disturbing similarities with China’s approach to centralized Internet control. The bills create vague standards for liability and ask private companies and Internet intermediaries to police and censor their users. When coupled with blanket immunity provisions for actions taken while attempting to comply with the legislation, these bills would encourage overbroad filtering that will remove both legal and illegal content.

“As the nation that invented the Internet, and as the global standard bearer in both economic and political freedom, we must continue to lead in holding the Chinese government accountable, and we must lead by example.”

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