Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has written an open letter to Robin Li, CEO of Chinese search giant Baidu.com, urging the company to take “immediate and tangible steps to protect human rights.”
In the letter Durbin tells of his recent trip to China, and how when he searched certain keywords on Baidu he was disappointed to find they were censored. He goes on to ask Baidu to lay out its current and future human rights-related policies. Just before he closes he adds:
Do you plan to enter into a partnership with Facebook to provide a social-networking service in China? If so, what safeguards will you implement to protect the users of this service?
It’s worth noting that Durbin is something of a compulsive letter writer when it comes to tech companies in China. Early last year Durbin also penned letters to Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter (those three letters can be found in full here), and that’s just to name a few of the recipients. Those correspondences were prompted by the Chinese cyberattack on Google and the hearing of the Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee that he held subsequently (see video below).
Many companies didn’t bother to reply to Durbin. But Facebook did, and its reply is publicly available on the senator’s website. In its letter, company’s Public Policy Director Timothy Sparapani explains:
- Facebook does not have any business in China, and will decline to partake in Durbin’s Human Rights hearing (Mar 2010, see below)
- “[Facebook does] not employ any staff in China. We do not have any offices in China… Further, we do not have any present plans to open an office in China”
- “Should the facts about our business change as our business grows internationally we would welcome the opportunity to testify at a subsequent hearing and we will continue to meet with your staff in the interim.”
Given that many American tech companies skip on becoming pen-pals with Durbin, I’d be surprised if Baidu bothered to reply. I’d be far more interested to see what would happen if he were to pose last year’s questions to Facebook once again, given that it’s almost certain that the company’s plans in China have changed.