RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — As expected, four U.S. technology firms took quite a tongue-lashing on Wednesday at Congressional hearings about Internet repression in China and their cooperation in helping build what has been called the “Great Firewall of China”.

As representatives from Cisco, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft looked on, Congressmen such as Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos, a Democrat, of California and Christopher Smith, a Republican, of New Jersey, criticized their companies for cooperating with the Chinese government.

Here’s a sampling of coverage about the House International Relations Committee from around the web:

“Perhaps the most outraged response came from U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, from San Mateo, Calif., near Silicon Valley, who is also a Holocaust survivor and outspoken human rights advocate,” reported The Chicago Tribune.

“These captains of industry should have been developing new technologies to bypass the sickening censorship of government and repugnant barriers to the Internet,” The Tribune quoted Lantos as saying. “Instead, they enthusiastically volunteered for the Chinese censorship brigade.”

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Lantos was far from finished.

“Your abhorrent actions in China are a disgrace,” Lantos said, according to The Associated Press.. “I simply don’t understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.”

Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who chaired the hearing, used his opening statement to deliver a broadside:

“Through an approach that monitors, filters, and blocks content with the use of technology and human monitors, the Chinese people have little access to uncensored information about any political or human rights topic, unless of course, Big Brother wants them to see it., China’s search engine, is guaranteed to take you to the virtual land of deceit, disinformation and the big lie,” he said.

“As such, the Chinese government utilizes the technology of U.S. IT companies combined with human censors – led by an estimated force of 30,000 cyber police – to control information in China. Websites that provide the Chinese people news about their country and the world, such as BBC, much of CNN, as well as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, are regularly blocked in China. In addition, when a user enters a forbidden word, such as “democracy,” “China torture” or “Falun Gong,” the search results are blocked, or you are redirected to a misleading site, and the user’s computer can be frozen for unspecified periods of time.”

For the complete text of Smith’s statement, see:

The fireworks at the hearing led the Chinese to issue a defense of their policy.

“It is normal for countries to manage the Internet in accordance with law and to guide its development in a healthy and orderly fashion,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, according to The AP. “China has also borrowed and learned from the United States and other countries in the world.”

The companies also tried to defend themselves.

“Google Inc.’s vice president of global communications, Elliot Schrage, said the company had carefully weighed the interests of Chinese users, its mission of providing access to information and local requirements as it mapped its entry into the Chinese market, adding that if its objectives are not met, that it could reconsider doing business there,” reported CBS’ MarketWatch.

“In an imperfect world, we had to make an imperfect choice,” Schrage said. “I’m not ashamed of it, and I’m not proud of it… We have begun a path that we believe will ultimately benefit our users in China.”

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United Press International, meanwhile, reported that Yahoo wanted help in dealing with the “Firewall” challenge.

“Yahoo’s Michael Callahan said that this issue was bigger than for one company or one industry, saying companies must comply with local laws,” UPI said.

“When a foreign telecommunications company operating in the United States receives an order from U.S. law enforcement, it must comply,” testified Callahan, according to UPI. “Failure to comply in China could have subjected Yahoo! China and its employees to criminal charges, including imprisonment. Ultimately, U.S. companies in China face a choice: comply with Chinese law, or leave.”

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