U.S. Judge: China's Baidu Has Right to Censor Search Results
Baidu, the largest search engine in China, is free to censor its search results to remove Web pages viewed as detrimental to China's leadership, a U.S. District Court in New York has ruled. Judge Jesse Furman said that in spite of complaints that the filtered search results infringed on free speech, the censorship itself is also a form of protected free speech.
Suppression of information in China is well known, and the country's Great Firewall is considered the most sophisticated Internet censorship system in the world. Even though the U.S. does not support those activities, Furman ruled that from a legal standpoint a search engine is like a newspaper, both of which can choose to post whatever content they want, even if it is one-sided.
Eight activists in the United States filed the lawsuit in 2011 after Baidu censored pro-democracy content that the activists and others had worked on. While search engines like Google do not filter these results in China, Baidu does, which has led many people to claim that the company works with the Chinese government.
The plaintiffs demanded that the search engine pay $16 million in damages, primarily because the censorship resulted in less traffic to the Web pages that were filtered out. Since the First Amendment of the Constitution protects free speech, Furman decided that forcing Baidu to include certain types of content would not be legal.
"The First Amendment protects Baidu's right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy [in China or elsewhere] just as surely as it protects Plaintiffs' rights to advocate for democracy," Furman wrote in his ruling.
Since Baidu has 500 million regular users in China, it is not surprising that content creators and activists oppose censorship on the search engine on the grounds of free speech. At the same time, Baidu's attorneys praised Furman's decision as protecting free speech.
"It shows that our courts protect the right of all media to choose what they publish," said Baidu's attorney Carey Ramos. "That right extends to Internet media as well as print media."
The battle between Baidu and the activists was plagued by delays after a first lawsuit was dismissed by Furman last year because Baidu had not been served court papers. The activists said they plan to appeal the ruling.
Stephen Preziosi, a lawyer for the activists, criticized the ruling.
"The court has laid out a perfect paradox: that it will allow the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech," Preziosi said.
He said Furman's newspaper analogy didn't work. Instead, Preziosi said, the search engine is more like a "town square, where pretty much anyone can go and say what he wants."
Posted: 2014-03-29 @ 9:56am PT
This comment was previously posted elsewhere, but it's fitting that I share it here so here it goes.
Yet another step towards codifying bad policy. For the sake of this discussion this commentary assumes that this decision is as it has been presented in this, and other, articles. Having not fully researched the matter I realize that there could conceivably be more to it…but for multiple reasons I doubt that is the case. Having stated all that it must be stated that this brings to mind the recent stories and public outcry about the assault on net neutrality. The ability for search engines to arbitrarily censor search results should in no way be allowed. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how that could be horribly abused. To illustrate my point I’ll borrow from posts that I placed online in regards to the net neutrality issue and adapt them to fit the “Pandora’s box” that this decision will open should it not be promptly reversed. So here goes the slightly adjusted excerpt.
SLIGHTLY ADJUSTED EXCERPT
Unfortunately people who (a) haven’t been subjected to wrongful stifling, (b) haven’t learned the dangers of limitations on free speech by studying history, and/or (c) aren’t critical thinkers might not see the potential dangers in this type of decision until it is too late. This should be reversed posthaste…and I don’t state that on a whim. History is full of bad acting influential entities that have abused power that they should have never had in the first place. Assume, as practically all experienced web surfers know, that a significant amount of web traffic is generated by surfers who use search engines as opposed to navigating to websites directly by manually typing urls in their web browser. Now think about these couple of scenarios:
1) A startup launches and its success is highly dependent on its ability to deliver various web content to the masses. However, a direct competitor owns and/or operates one or more search engines (or is an associate of an entity that owns and/or operates one or more search engines). No problem…just have the startup’s online content removed from search results or artificially hidden within search results. It goes without saying that web surfers who aren’t already aware of the startup’s online content won’t find the content (or in the case that the content is merely hidden, likely won’t find the content). BUSINESS - IS - TOUGH. That being the case it is a foregone conclusion that a startup that is subjected to having its content removed from search results, or artificially hidden within search results, will fail if web content plays a significant role in its business model.
2) A group is fighting against influential wrongdoers and the group is effectively and rightfully utilizing the internet during the course of their warranted and rightful battle. However, one or more of the wrongdoers owns and/or operates one or more search engines (or is an associate of an entity that owns and/or operates one or more search engines). No problem…just have the group’s online content removed from search results or artificially hidden within search results. Again, it goes without saying that web surfers who aren’t already aware of the group’s online content won’t find the content (or in the case that the content is merely hidden, likely won’t find the content). FIGHTING - INFLUENTIAL - WRONGDOERS - IS - TOUGH. That being the case it is a foregone conclusion that a movement against wrongdoers that is subjected to having its content removed from search results, or artificially hidden within search results, will fail if web content plays a significant role in the movement.
Those who have a problem visualizing the scenario outlined immediately above need do nothing more than look at corruption-plagued countries that are built upon cultures where censorship is par for the course. Of the many things that this decision might give way to, one of the things that it will definitely give way to is inappropriate (and likely rampant) censorship. I’ll repeat that so that it will sink in…IT WILL GIVE WAY TO INAPPROPRIATE (AND LIKELY RAMPANT) CENSORSHIP.
There are probably multiple other scenarios that could be listed above but the given scenarios are sufficient to make my point. Again, as the decision is expressed in various articles the decision is not right and IT SHOULD BE REVERSED POSTHASTE.
Although some things are right about America, some things are definitely going in the wrong direction. People such as Hitler, those who conducted the Tuskegee Experiment, and those whom were responsible for disseminating smallpox infested blankets to Native American Indians (just to name a few) would have a heyday with this decision if they were alive and engaging in their bad acts today. Reason being, it goes without saying that as it stands the internet is the average joe’s most efficient form of a mouthpiece. And let us not forget that in America (as well as in the rest of the world) some of the greatest achievements have been accomplished by determined average joes who spoke out to the masses as efficiently as was possible. Rest assured that this decision (should it stand) will make influential bad actors everywhere rejoice…they are likely already planning ways to exploit it (assuming that they haven’t already planned a plethora ways).
In case anyone somehow thinks that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I will state that I most certainly do. I am personally involved in a long-running, massive, warranted, and rightful fight against epic public corruption. I can tell you that it is an undeniable fact that that warranted and rightful fight has been plagued by civil liberties infringements carried out via wrongful attempts by bad actors to stifle our free speech. For the record the fight is called GATORGAIT and those who are unaware of it can find out more information at the damning, truthful, and lawful website gatorgait-dot-com . Also for the record, the website is in various search engines as of the time of this post (i.e. 03/29/2014). Additionally, there has been various other truthful and lawful Gatorgait-related content that has been posted online by us justice seekers and which has remained not interfered with…that content is also in various search engines as of the time of this post.
Generally speaking I have lost faith in man’s ability to consistently do what’s right. Over hundreds of years of bad practices and policies promulgated largely by those who have wrongfully and shortsightedly used their gift of intelligence to increase their power and “line their pockets” at the long term expense of mankind and the world we have, as a whole, lost our way. Let’s see where this recent decision takes us. Just as we opposed the most recent attempt to pass the far too intrusive CISPA (and the more recent net neutrality move) we strongly oppose the decision as expressed in this article. Pay attention…close attention. As indicated above I’m jaded; therefore, I have no confidence that if there isn’t an abrupt about face that bad acting men and women won’t ensure that action becomes warranted. It may be soon or it may be later, but rest assured that serious action will become necessary.
Having stated all the above it must be stated that this looming “free reign of search engine censorship” would even be problematic if we lived in a society that brimmed with search engine competition. But we don’t live in a society brimming with search engine competition. It is a fact that Google and Bing power practically all of the major English search engines. Before anyone disputes that fact take note that I stated PRACTICALLY. Those who don’t know that fact about Google and Bing’s U.S. market domination just need to do a little research. If a small player in the search engine industry was arbitrarily censoring search results that would be problematic. It’s exponentially worse when the market leaders do it. For more insight on the previous sentence I suggest that you borrow from principles of antitrust law. Because in the “world of antitrust” it’s well known that when you’re a small player you might be able to get away with some questionable business practices…at least for a little while. But when you’re a market leader, for various reasons—reasons that include the tremendous advantage you enjoy as a market leader (a practically insurmountable advantage)—the “bar is higher”. Addressing domestic operations only in this post; neither Google, Bing, nor any other American search engine (or any foreign-headquartered search engines with hardware on American soil and conducting business in America) should be engaged in the practice of arbitrary censorship.
If this decision sets a precedent is anyone naïve enough to think that if the government does “persuade” a search engine to censor search results that the search engine operator, when confronted, wouldn’t likely just falsely take the stance that “we just censored your online content on a whim…sucks for you but that’s our choice”? With this decision as precedent that’s likely precisely the stance that they would falsely take if the aggrieved party is amongst the ranks of private citizens…unless of course that party is of the stature of say Bill Gates or some other exceedingly powerful individual. And how many people fit that category? ANSWER: Almost none. This decision in effect will allow all search engine censorship. And there’s no denying that that is ripe for abuse. Again, the decision as it is expressed in this article should be reversed posthaste. Any significant rewards this decision could conceivably bring about (not that we’re necessarily of the mindset that there are any) would be far outweighed ...