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White House backs free Internet

WASHINGTON, Jan 14 – With Google threatening to pull out of China over censorship, the White House said Wednesday that it backs the "right to a free Internet" and confirmed it has held talks with the Internet giant.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he would not go into details about the administration\’s discussions with Google, which announced on Tuesday it would no longer filter search results from China on its Web search engine.

"We have had conversations and discussions with them about what they have talked about yesterday," Gibbs told reporters here. "I don\’t want to get much further afield than that."

"The president and this administration have beliefs about the freedom of the Internet," Gibbs added, noting that President Barack Obama had expressed them in China last year.

"The right of a free Internet is what many of you heard the president talk about in China," Gibbs said.

During a visit to China in November, Obama pushed for an unshackled Internet saying he was a "strong supporter of open Internet use" and a "big supporter of non-censorship."

Gibbs also recalled that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked for an explanation from China for what Google said was a wave of "highly sophisticated" cyberattacks aimed at Chinese human rights activists.

"As the secretary of state said, we look forward to the response from the Chinese," the White House spokesman said.

China said Wednesday it was seeking more information on Google\’s move.

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The state-run Xinhua news agency quoted an anonymous official at the press office of the State Council, the nation\’s cabinet, as saying that Internet authorities were looking for clarification of Google\’s statement.

"It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows," the official was quoted as saying.

Google said China-based cyber spies struck the Internet giant and at least 20 other unidentified firms in an apparent bid to hack into the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists around the world.

The Mountain View, California-based company, whose motto is "Don\’t be evil," said the cyberattacks originating from China and Web censorship demands were forcing it to review its business operations in China.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Google on Wednesday for threatening to quit China and urged other high-tech companies to resist Beijing.

"The announcement that Google will fully review its business operations in China and will no longer tolerate censorship of its search engine should serve as an example to businesses and governments," Pelosi said in a statement.

"The Chinese government operates one of the most sophisticated operations in the world to control the Internet," Pelosi said. "It is essential that technology companies not assist in efforts that violate human rights or prohibit the free exchange of ideas."

A Republican member of Congress, Chris Smith of New Jersey, urged Pelosi on Wednesday to bring the Global Online Freedom Act, a bill that would prevent US IT companies from working with repressive governments, to a vote.

Smith praised Google\’s move and said "legislation is desperately needed to stop US companies from working hand-in-glove with dictatorships attempting to crack down on democratic activists who use the Internet."

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Paris-based Reporters Without Borders hailed Google’s move meanwhile saying "a foreign IT company has finally accepted its responsibilities towards Chinese users and is standing up to the Chinese authorities.

"We call on other IT companies to form a common front and we urge the Chinese authorities to reconsider their position," RSF said.

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