Eight New Yorkers sue Chinese government and Baidu over content censorship

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In a bold and bizarre legal challenge, eight Chinese residents of New York have launched a lawsuit against search firm Baidu and the Chinese government accusing them of conspiring to censor pro-democratic content.

The claimants argue in a suit filed on 18 May that Baidu is an "enforcer" of policies from the ruling Communist party by removing references to events such as the Tiananmen Square protests.

Reuters reported that the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Stephen Preziosi, said that the alleged censorship also violates federal and New York civil rights laws, as well as New York's human rights law.

"We allege a private company is acting as the arm and agent of a foreign state to suppress political speech, and permeate US borders to violate the First Amendment. An internet search engine is a public accommodation, just like a hotel or restaurant," he said.

The claimants want damages of $16m (£10m), around $2m (£1.2m) each, which seems rather meagre given that they are going up against one of the world's most powerful economies.

Less nobly, those bringing the suit are not out to change Baidu's policies, which begs the question why they are bothering to bring the lawsuit in the first place. "It would be futile to expect Baidu to change," Preziosi said.

The Chinese authorities are notorious for their strict controls over the internet, using what is known as the 'Great Firewall of China'.

Google famously moved its search business to Hong Kong owing to continued pressure to censor searches. Sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube are all banned in China.

19 May 2011

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