Companies defend against Chinese censorship charge

A number of technology companies defended themselves Monday against charges made by human rights group Amnesty International that they were assisting the Chinese government's efforts to censor the Internet.

The report, published last week, singled out Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and Websense as vendors that have "provided important technology which helps the Chinese authorities censor the Internet."

Microsoft and Cisco said Monday that they merely provide technology and don't control how customers use that technology.

"Our customers, not Cisco Systems, determine the specific uses for the capabilities of these products,'' a company spokeswoman said. A Microsoft spokeswoman also echoed that sentiment.

Websense said it doesn't have contracts with the Chinese central government. The company sells employee Internet management software. "We only sell our software to companies so that they can prevent employees from gaining access to certain sites such as pornography and gambling. The Chinese government isn't a customer, but we are investigating the charge made in the report to determine its basis," said Geoff Haggart, Websense vice president for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region.

Sun and Nortel did not respond to requests for comment.

The censorship issues were brought up in a larger report that also detailed the detainment or imprisonment of 33 people in China in connection with use of the Internet.

Citing media reports and the work of Greg Walton, a researcher at the International Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Montreal, as the basis for its claims, Amnesty International also pointed to Nortel Networks "along with some other international firms" as providing China with the technology that will help the government "shift from filtering content at the international gateway level to filtering content of individual computers, in homes, Internet cafes, universities and businesses."

In a statement promoting its report, Amnesty International urged companies to take more responsibility in policing how its technology is used.

"As China's role as an economic and trading partner grows, multinational companies have a particular responsibility to ensure that their technology is not used to violate fundamental human rights," Amnesty International said in the statement.

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