Washington has been abuzz about a book titled "Game Change," in which two political reporters provide all kinds of hot details about the last presidential campaign. But a lifesaving "game changer" may actually have presented itself online, on the book's publication date. That's the hope of New Jersey Republican Rep. Christopher Smith, a longtime human-rights crusader who has been trying to bring attention to the plight of the prisoners in the Chinese "laogai" network of labor camps. And the "game changer," he says, is Google's discovery that the e-mail accounts of dissidents in China have been hacked by the Chinese government, putting the lives of some courageous people in peril.
Google, which has been in China since 2005, willingly censors its search engine -- in compliance with Chinese law -- and refuses to talk about exactly what it blocks. But if you try Googling "Tiananmen Square" from an Internet cafe in Beijing, you will find picturesque images. If you Google "torture," you will learn about Japanese actions in China during World War II and, naturally, George W. Bush and Guantanamo Bay. Smith tried all this when he was in China shortly before the Beijing Olympics. Google searches for democracy, human rights or Tibet will leave the curious citizen in China lacking a lot of important information. Meanwhile, the government will know what he or she was doing online.
In response to the disclosure that dissidents' e-mails had been hacked by the government, Google is now considering pulling out of China. This would be the responsible thing to do.
Representative Smith doesn't boast that he told Google so -- but he did. He doesn't brag that he's drafted, and put through committees in the House of Representatives, legislation that would keep American companies from making too many deals with dictatorships.
In February 2006, Smith chaired the first congressional hearing on China's abuse of the Internet, and the American companies helping them to do so. The hearing, which lasted eight hours, included representatives of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco; Smith scolded them for a "sickening collaboration" with Beijing's tyrants -- accusing them of helping in "decapitating the voice of the dissidents." It was a dramatic hearing, during which the late Rep. Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California who headed the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, told the Internet technology executives: "I simply do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."
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