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Gmail of human rights activists breached: US lawmakers told

Last Updated: Friday, March 12, 2010 - 00:23

Washington: A top Google official on Thursday told the US lawmakers that the Gmail accounts of dozens of activists who advocate human rights in China have been accessed by the third party, originating from China.
As such Google is currently reviewing its business interest there, he said. "In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure, originating from China, with a primary but unsuccessful goal to access Gmail accounts."

"However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident was something quite different. Other companies from a range of businesses -- finance, technology, media and chemical -- were similarly targeted," he said.

"We discovered in our investigation that the accounts of dozens of Gmail users around the world who advocate for human rights in China appeared to have been accessed by third parties," said Nicole Wong, vice president and deputy counsel of the Google in his testimony before a Congressional committee.

"This happened independent of the attack on Google, likely through phishing or malware placed on those users` computers. These circumstances, as well as attempts over the past year to limit free speech online, led us to conclude that we no longer feel comfortable censoring our search results in China. We are currently reviewing our business operations there," he told US lawmakers.

"No particular industry, much less any single company, can tackle internet censorship on its own. Concerted collective action is needed to promote online free expression and reduce the impact of censorship," Wong said.

Wong said the US government should promote Internet openness as a major plank for US foreign policy. The free flow of information is an important part of diplomacy, foreign assistance, and engagement on human rights, he noted.

"Second, Internet censorship should be part of our trade agenda because it has serious economic implications. It tilts the playing field towards domestic companies and reduces consumer choice. It affects not only US and global Internet companies, but also hurts businesses in every sector that use the Internet to reach customers," he said.

"Third, our government and governments around the world should be transparent about demands to censor or request information about users or when a network comes under attack. This is a critical part of the democratic process, allowing citizens to hold their governments accountable," he said.

However, Congressman Brad Sherman argued against Google`s withdrawal from China.

"Keeping Google out of China is not the solution, in fact, that may be what China is trying to achieve. We should instead have hundreds of millions of dollars devoted to developing the technology and putting out the contracts to develop the technology to punch a hole in the Great Wall of China and all the other barriers to the use of the Internet," he said, adding we should be aggressive in using our technology to take down terrorist sites around the world.


First Published: Friday, March 12, 2010 - 00:23

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