Nov. 28, 2002

American technology companies that touted the Internet's promise in China are now helping the government repress China's Internet users, Amnesty International charged in a report this week.

The London-based human-rights group cited Websense, Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Nortel Networks as companies that have ''provided important technology which helps the Chinese authorities censor the Internet.''

''Internet users are the latest group to be ensnared in China's deadly web of arrest, detention, and torture, and U.S. corporations increasingly facilitate this repression,'' wrote T. Kumar, Amnesty International's Asia advocacy director in a news release accompanying the report.

The 19-page report, released Tuesday, provided a broad look at the development, regulation and censorship of the Internet in China.

Amnesty International urged the Chinese government to free more than 30 people jailed for sharing information or expressing their views online, saying such people make up a growing new category of ''prisoners of conscience.''

China represents a huge and potentially lucrative market for many technology companies as its economy booms. The number of Internet users in China has more than doubled every year to nearly 50 million in June. Many analysts predict that China's Internet market will become the largest in the world within four years.

Business defended

Several companies cited in the report defended their business in China, saying they merely provide the technology and don't control how it is used.

''Our customers, not Cisco Systems, determine the specific uses for the capabilities of these products,'' a company spokeswoman said.

''Microsoft is focused on delivering the best technology to people throughout the world,'' the company said. ''However, Microsoft cannot control the way it may ultimately be used.''

Amnesty International charged Nortel Networks and other unnamed international firms with helping China shift from filtering content at the international gateway level to filtering content of individual computers in homes, Internet cafes, universities and businesses.

Neither Nortel nor Sun Microsystems were available for comment Wednesday.

Walton cited

In reporting the involvement of technology companies in China, Amnesty cited the work of Greg Walton, a researcher at the International Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Montreal.

Websense spokesman Ted Ladd said the San Diego company has not entered into any contracts with the Chinese central government. It sells Web filtering software for corporations to prevent employees from gaining access to sites of pornography and gambling.

Ladd said the company's 18,000 customers include Chinese schools seeking to block sex-related material from students and multinational corporations based in Hong Kong.

''We give them the software, and they can adjust it however they want,'' he said. But China appears to be blocking Internet content based on keywords, which is different from the way Websense technology works, he said.

''Our software doesn't operate in that manner,'' he said. ''We're pretty confident that it's being used the way it's supposed to.''

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