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The Courts Censorship China United States

U.S. Court: Chinese Search Engine's Censorship Is 'Free Speech' 284

Posted by Soulskill
from the filtering-the-internet dept.
jfruh writes: "You will probably not be surprised to learn that Chinese search giant Baidu censors a wide range of content, particularly political material deemed to be pro-democracy — and does so for users everywhere, not just in China. A group of activists filed suit against Baidu in New York for violating free speech laws, but the judge in the case declared (PDF) that, as a private entity in the United States, Baidu has the right to provide whatever kind of search results it wants, even for political reasons."
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U.S. Court: Chinese Search Engine's Censorship Is 'Free Speech'

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  • Corporations are people. And people have a right to free speech, right? Which, in the case at hand, is a right to censor. Right?

    Well, no. Corporations are legal fictions, and coporate personhood has gone too far.

    Corporations are nothing more than a piece of paper, an act of incorporation, and should be treated as such.

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      but even if corporations had no individual right (which they should not), I still would support their freedom to choose to return whatever the hell they want in search engine. Even if that corporation had some racist or religious bias in results it wanted to return.

    • by Megol (3135005)
      What have your rant to do with this thread? A private entity can censor whatever they want in the US, this is no different than bringing a lawsuit against e.g. one of the anti-porn filter companies.

      If one doesn't agree with the censorship Baido does one can simply _not_use_it_.

    • Actually, as idiotic as it sounds, corporations are persons in the U.S. legal system. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]
      • corporations are groups of people working together for a common goal. Forming groups is a right under the 1st Amendment. or the right of the people peaceably to assemble The above right would be meaningless if the goverment could regulate the speach of groups. It is also impossible to regulate the speach of a group without regulating the speach of individuals. Corporations don't go to prison for violating censorship laws. The members of the group, employees, owners, and members go to jail. They are the ones
        • Corporations don't go to prison for violating censorship laws. The members of the group, employees, owners, and members go to jail. They are the ones who have their assets taken.

          That last bit would be a lot more persuasive if it weren't for the concept of limited liability. The whole idea of corporations owning assets, signing contracts, etc. is that the owners of the corporation are to some degree insulated if the corporation "does" something such as breaking a contract that could lead to the loss of those assets--but it really ought to work both ways. As things stand right now, the privilege pretty much only seems to go one way.

          • by JoelKatz (46478)

            It can't work both ways. The government can't say "sure, you can have limited liability, something only the government can give you and that you pretty much need to run a business, but in exchange, you must give up some of your Constitutional rights". That's basically the definition of an unconstitutional condition.

    • Corporations are nothing more than a piece of paper, an act of incorporation, and should be treated as such.

      Agreed on that point, but that leads me to the opposite conclusion. Individuals pursue values through institutions. It is the underlying right of the individual employees, workers, owners and executives that give the association of people that collectively we call a corporation the same rights as the individuals that are in association with one another. Call it whatever you want, a corporation or a knitting group, it is the rights of the individual to associate and retain their individual liberty both

    • Something's been troubling me recently about the whole "corporations are people" thing. If corporations are people, what's to prevent corporations from running for public office? Suppose a corporation was founded in the US at least 35 years ago, could that corporation run for President? It's the logical (and frightening) conclusion to the "corporations are people" argument. How long until the companies stop merely buying candidates and instead BECOME the candidates?

    • by JoelKatz (46478)

      So if the New York Times publishes an article critical of the government and the government responds by seizing their printing presses, that's Constitutional in your view because the New York Times is a corporation -- nothing more than a piece of paper?

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday March 28, 2014 @10:34AM (#46602419)
    ... The judge was also reported to say "now that's decided I'm going to pick up a couple of strippers who will whip me while i wear their underwear"
  • by kheldan (1460303) on Friday March 28, 2014 @10:34AM (#46602431) Journal
    Our knee-jerk reaction to this here in the U.S. is predictable: "Oh shit, there goes the 1st Amendment!".
    Not so simple, though: Baidu is a private company here in the U.S., even if it's blindingly obvious it's 100% driven by the Chinese government/Chinese communist party (same thing, really) and as such they can provide whatever search results they want. Same would go for Google, or Yahoo, or Bing, or whoever -- the caveat being that if, say, Google decided to start censoring search results to the extent Baidu does, then Google would be finished as the de-facto search engine here in the U.S. However: Nobody is forcing you to use Google, Yahoo, Bing, Baidu, or any other search engine here in the U.S. Even if you're a Chinese National living here in the U.S., unless the Chinese communist party has someone standing there with a gun to your head, you're free to NOT use Baidu, just like you're free to NOT use Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine, too. Don't bring me your "We don't REALLY have a choice" crap, either, because you do, even if you don't like the choices you have. Also, finally, someone else could always start up their own search-engine company if they think there's a niche to fill, and they could make a gigantic point of how they censor none of the results -- and they might even unseat everyone else in the process.
    • by jythie (914043)
      In the case of Google, Yahoo, and Bing at least, while no one is 'forcing' you to use them, the fact they are so heavily used does actually matter. If the three of them decide together that your speech should be censored, it effectively disappears for the vast majority of readers. You can rant and rave all you like and be picked up by alternative sites, but they can control how much audience you have and the bulk of that audience probably would not even be aware of what they are missing.

      So it is not just
      • by bws111 (1216812)

        Wong, wrong, wrong. You have a right to not be punished by the government for saying something. You do not have, and have never had, the 'right to get your message out'. The very idea is absurd.

    • by Shadowhawk (30195)
      Also, the text of the 1st amendment starts "Congress shall make no law". Nothing in there applies to private entity. The first amendment has *nothing* to do with this case.
  • by hessian (467078) on Friday March 28, 2014 @10:53AM (#46602649) Homepage Journal

    This ruling makes sense when you consider the alternative:

    Government would have to police each search engine to make sure it was permitting full free speech.

    Then, the potential for abuse is huge. Government could simply drop something -- like, say, far-right information -- off the list and allow it to be censored while claiming it was legally not censorship.

    Government could also force search engines to incorporate other information that is favored by government, and penalize them if that information didn't make it high in the rankings.

    We don't want government in the business of determining what "free speech" is in legal terms.

    • Like it or not, the government does exclude some speech from being "free". Threats and defamation are excluded, as is the ever-popular "shouting fire in a crowded theater". Even obscenity can be limited, though fortunately that exception has been narrowed in the past few decades.

      Not that I want these to be the camel's nose under the tent. I'm just pointing out that the potential for abuse is already there. I think it's perfectly reasonable that you can't threaten somebody and call it "free speech", but it s

  • hasn't the tech party line always been "governments can't censor us, the internet sees that as damage and routes around it" or something like that?

    it sure looks like governments are doing a pretty good jobs of destroying that meme, be it Turkey or China...or even perhaps the NSA/US.

    and of course i *know* vpns and proxies can be set up...i wonder how many typical chinese citizens know how to set those up tho.

    • by thaylin (555395)
      You dont need many that know how to set them up, just some that know how to make it easy to make the average citizen be capable of connecting to them. Each citizen does not need their own VPN server.
  • There's nothing wrong with this decision. In fact, it's the right decision. As long as there is healthy competition, there's no reason any arm of government should be able to force a business to operate a certain way, outside of actions or inactions that are ostensibly illegal or abusive.

    It's not like there aren't a thousand other capable search engines you can use instead.

  • This is pretty straightforward. On the principle that I do not believe in slavery, I do not believe that anyone has the right to tell Baidu what to do, including what search results to return. Really this is a very weak attempt by these activists, and they are violating their own principles by trying to restrict the freedom of others.

  • For me, in my years on the internet, I've come to believe and stand by the premise that a web server or ANY service offered to the public internet from your equipment is an extension of your home. People who visit are guests of your service. They have to follow your rules or they will be told to leave. It's very simple and I think it rightly extends to businesses operating websites.

    This ruling is no different than my operating a gaming forum and asking people not to post about knitting, as it's not the t

    • That's how I see it too. I run a computer help forum and have a off-topic forum area for non-computer-help issues. Still, we'll delete posts and ban users based on posting spammy content (e.g. first time poster coming in making 5 posts trying to sell a product), bad behavior (trolling comments/racist comments/etc), posting illegal items (if you post a link to some warez site, your post will be removed), etc. I'm not infringing on these posters' free speech rights because they are essentially guests on my

  • There are a lot of other search engines out there. It doesn't bother me that search engines I don't use wouldn't give me results I want.

    If somebody wants to set up a search engine that caters to a certain demographic (members of a religious group, political persuasion, age group, whatever) then people are free to use it and the rest of us are free to not use it.

  • by 3seas (184403) on Friday March 28, 2014 @01:03PM (#46604173) Journal

    The founding fathers of the United States of America were NOT supporters of Democracy as they knew from history and experience that Democracy leads to Oligarchy. Instead they founded a Republic!!!

    Perhaps the first post with a long list of replies should learn about US founding history.

  • Maybe next someone should sue Wikipedia for declaring their article non-notable. That's censorship.

    Private companies have no obligation toward any kind of "freedom of speech".

  • by morgauxo (974071)

    Somebody really opened up a can of dumb in this room didn't they!

    What am I replying to? Everything!

  • When a government tries to censor something, it usually means two things:

    • 1. It's true.
    • 2. They want it to be true.

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