Google Defends Position on China at Geneva Summit

The Geneva Summit for Human Rights opened this morning with a high-level panel on censorship and Internet freedom, a core subject of the conference.

The Internet has emerged as one of today’s most pressing human rights concerns. “It reflects the worst and best of human society,” said ITU Corporate Strategy head, Alexander Ntoko. “The Internet is not borderless, but it is restricted by the physical borders of nations.”

The panel also featured Google policy director Bob Boorstin, who discussed “how you can reach an agreement on how to put a process together on how to enter a new market and still be aware of the human rights implications.” Specifically, he discussed Google’s prosecution in an Italian case involving a video of teenagers abusing an autistic child, and Google’s controversial censored version of its search engine for China.

“If we shut down, we will take away from China a tool that the Chinese people have come to depend on, because it is not Baidu,” said Boorstin.Several different views exist of what constitutes fair access to the Internet, but several initiatives among civil society members and private sector service providers have worked to open transparency. Boorstin cited Google Earth’s initiative to document the location of displaced persons and refugee camps in Sudan.

He and Ntoko also shared best practices and advised NGOs and activists to “be less emotional and be simple in what you are trying to do.”  The tension between national laws and universal rights has yet to produce a consensus on how to approach situations of mass censorship in authoritarian countries. However, a balance must be struck, in recognition of the extraordinary spread of the Internet.

“We need a common understanding, protecting children is one initiative, but we should also push old institutions,” said Boorstin. “The more people feed computer translations, the better the computer will get.”

For video of part I of this this panel, click here.

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