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Internet Business: Google Resists U.S. Demands, but Not China's

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

In January, the United States Justice Department asked for millions of Internet search records. Its lawyers asked Google, Yahoo, American Online and Microsoft's MSN for one week of searches by their users.

Google refused. Last week the California company presented a twenty-five page legal answer. Google says the request would violate the privacy of its users and make its trade secrets public. Privacy activists have praised the company. It also argues that the list of search words would not mean much anyway.

The government says it does not want personal details about the users. It says it wants to better understand how people use the Internet. The lawyers say they are trying to show that children need more protection from sexual material and other dangers online.

The Justice Department is trying to defend a law called the Child Online Protection Act. The Supreme Court blocked enforcement in two thousand four.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the law, and supports Google. It says the government has not established a need for the information. A judge plans to hear arguments on March thirteenth.

As Google refuses to cooperate with the United States government, it is cooperating with the government of China. Google has the most popular search engine on the Internet. But Google is not the only Internet company competing for more than one hundred million Internet users in China. Others include Yahoo and Microsoft.

In doing so, they have cooperated with Chinese officials in different ways. For example, Yahoo provided information about the Internet activities of two Chinese citizens. The two have since been arrested and jailed.

The Chinese government says it is normal for countries to try to guide the "healthy and orderly" development of the Internet. But critics say American companies should not help suppress dissent, by blocking sites or restricting searches and e-mail. Just this month the American State Department announced a Global Internet Freedom Task Force.

Officials from Google and other companies faced heavy criticism before a congressional committee last week in Washington. Lawmakers said the companies have put profits before their duties as responsible world citizens.

A Google vice president said his company made a reasonable choice between honoring Chinese law and not operating in China. He said it is better for Chinese users that Google operates under legal restrictions than not at all.

This week, Chinese officials investigated Google's permit to operate its newly launched Web site for China. Some saw the investigation as a attempt to pressure Google to cooperate even more if it wants to do business in China. The findings were not immediately announced.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Read and listen to our reports at I'm Steve Ember.