From the AFP:
The leading US-based Internet companies are showing little interest in attending a Congressional briefing on worries that the firms are bending to the wishes of China’s censors.
Microsoft and Cisco Systems have refused to attend the event, while Google and Yahoo are non-committal, officials said.
The firms were asked to attend the February 1 briefing by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus following uproar caused by search giant Google’s decision last week to censor websites and content banned by China’s propaganda chiefs.
“We have heard from Microsoft that no representative from the company will attend the briefing. So, with Cisco Systems, this makes two companies that have confirmed they’re opting out,” Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for caucus co-chairman Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, told AFP.
As the briefing date gets closer, “others are still unfortunately keeping us in suspense,” she said. “It is mystifying why these companies would not want to take part after all this is an opportunity to clear their names,” Weil said.
Weil said all five non-governmental groups invited to the briefing had confirmed participation. They were media watchdog Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Toronto University and Harvard Law School.
More by following the link, but it’s clear that Microsoft and the others are going to take a hit whether they show up or not. Also, the Congressional hearings were actually scheduled before the latest revelation about Google agreeing to Chinese government censorship added fuel to the fire.
What’s more, there are two separate Congressional groups requesting Microsoft’s presence. The hearing mentioned above and scheduled for this coming Wednesday is unofficial and sponsored by the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus. On February 15, Microsoft has also been asked to appear before the official House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. There’s no word on whether they will attend that hearing, although Yahoo has already accepted. Verne Kopytoff at the SF Chronicle reports that the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is
… considering drafting legislation that would put some restrictions on Internet companies that could include rules about censoring search results, and require them to locate e-mail servers outside a country that limits free speech.
This issue doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon for Microsoft or any of the other companies involved.