Reuters reports that Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, has been sued by New York residents who accused the company of “conspiring with the country’s government” to censor their pro-democracy speech, even when searches originated inside the U.S.
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Baidu acts as an “enforcer” of policies by the ruling Communist Party in censoring pro-democracy writings and videos to the extent that they do not appear in search results even when made within the country, which violates laws in the US Constitution.
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Stephen Preziosi, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the alleged censorship violates federal and New York civil rights laws, as well as New York’s human rights law, on the grounds that “an Internet search engine is a public accommodation, just like a hotel or restaurant.”
The lawsuit seeks $16 million in damages, or $2 million per plaintiff, but does not seek changes to Baidu’s policies.
It’s not kept secret that the Chinese government is responsible for censoring search results for terms that are deemed sensitive. To comply, search engines such as Baidu voluntarily filter searches, which is one of the reasons why it dominated over Google in China.
China’s Internet censorship practices are viewed as reflecting its belief that keeping a tight grip on information helps the government maintain control. The country recently established the State Internet Information Office, the government agency assigned to collaborate with different organizations for the supervision and filtering of the Internet in China.
Meanwhile, the United States is still pushing with an intervention that promotes Internet freedom by throwing millions of dollars into new technology to break through Internet censorship overseas, including evading the infamous Internet controls in China.