Google announced Monday that it would stop censoring search results on its site in China, forcing authorities in Beijing to decide whether they are willing to forsake one of the most important tools of modern technology so that they can maintain their iron grip over the flow of information.
In negotiations with Chinese authorities over the past two months, Google had tried to determine whether it could operate an unfiltered search engine in China under the country's laws. But Chinese officials, the company said Monday, made it "crystal clear . . . that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement."
As a result, Google has made what analysts described as a shrewd but risky business decision -- to redirect users in mainland China to its search engine based in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that operates its own economic and political systems. The company described the move as a "sensible solution."
"This move is entirely legal by Chinese law and Hong Kong law, and that is important to know: that we are abiding by the law," a source at Google said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Still, the decision puts the Internet search giant, which has a huge financial stake in China, on a collision course with Beijing. Despite Google's intention to keep some of its business operations in China, the government there could shut it down, block all of its sites or even take action against some of its 700 employees there.
That concern was evident in Google's announcement Monday, which stressed that "all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them."
The move drew a quick and angry response in Beijing, where an unnamed government official said that the Chinese had been patient with Google but that the company had nonetheless "violated its written promise" to censor search results, according to the state-run New China News Service ...
Internet users in China can, with some effort, get around what is known as the Great Firewall. But government barriers have prevented tens of millions of mainland Chinese from seeing vast segments of cyberspace. Chinese in Hong Kong -- beneficiaries of Beijing's "one country, two systems" policy -- have had access to unfiltered results.
Google's decision Monday, some experts said, threatens to reveal to mainland Chinese that the government has effectively operated a parallel set of unequal Internet universes ...
Human rights groups hailed Google's decision to stop self-censoring, casting it as an important challenge to the Chinese government's censorship system.
"As a practical matter, it means that they may have to leave, but they're going to force the government to choose between an uncensored search engine and kicking Google out," said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.
If you're not sure what the cartoonists are depicting, see Banks Apply Pressure to Keep Fees Rolling In.
John Walker Lindh and David Hicks were both young Muslim converts who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and were captured there in 2001 by American troops. But then their cases diverged — in ways that might surprise anyone following the fierce political debate over how the Obama administration should treat terrorism suspects.
Bush administration officials decided to charge Mr. Lindh, an American, in the civilian criminal justice system. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and will not get out until at least 2019.
Mr. Hicks, an Australian, was treated as an enemy combatant — the approach now pressed by President Obama’s Republican critics. He went before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and got a seven-year sentence with all but nine months suspended. He is already free.
The Dec. 25 arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, has reignited an old argument over how to treat terrorism suspects. Republican critics have denounced the decision to charge Mr. Abdulmutallab criminally, read him his rights and give him a lawyer. He was a combatant in Al Qaeda’s war on the United States, critics say, and should have been treated accordingly.
But the assumptions behind the criticism — that the military approach will gain more intelligence, avoid the meddling of government-paid defense lawyers and lock away a convicted terrorist for a longer sentence — are undercut by the record since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In eight years, the Bush administration said it had obtained at least 319 convictions in “terrorism or terrorism-related” cases in the civilian justice system, according to a Justice Department budget document. A study by the Center on Law and Security at New York University found convictions in nearly 9 of 10 cases, with a 16-year average sentence for those convicted of terrorism.
Only two accused terrorists arrested in the United States, Ali al-Marri and Jose Padilla, were moved temporarily into the military system. But after legal challenges by the lawyers supplied to all detainees who face military justice, the Bush administration moved both cases back to civilian courts, where Mr. Padilla was sentenced to 17 years in prison and Mr. Marri to 8 years.
Meanwhile, at Guantánamo, just three men were convicted by military commissions, largely because the tribunals drew countless legal challenges. Two of the three men convicted, including Mr. Hicks, are now free.
Robert M. Chesney, an expert on national security law at the University of Texas, said the attacks on the Obama administration’s handling of Mr. Abdulmutallab were “mired in misinformation, some of it willful.”
Mr. Chesney said the Republicans were largely to blame for what he called “a bizarre public discussion that is 90 percent politics and 10 percent substance,” since they never complained when the Bush administration handled terrorism cases the same way. But he said the Obama administration might have invited the attacks by itself applying partisan spin to security.