US seeks information on China censorship of American websites

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk asked China for details on why it blocks the websites of small and medium-sized American businesses under the rule of the World Trade Organization on Wednesday.

A release from the USTR notes access to the Chinese market via the Internet is increasingly crucial for American service firms and argues the censorship creates commercial trade barriers that hurt U.S. companies.

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"While the U.S. believes that the best Internet policy is to encourage the free flow of information globally, the United States' WTO request relates specifically to the commercial and trade impact of the Internet disruptions," the agency said.

USTR cites WTO rules that each member must respond promptly to requests for information from another, but the U.S. has not yet filed a complaint regarding China's firewall.

The information request asks which Chinese ministry is responsible for identifying the sites, what guidelines they use in blocking sites and who is in charge of implementing the actual ban. It also asks how a business whose website is blocked can appeal the decision.

The agency, moreover, questions the role of the Chinese State Internet Information Office, which was established in May. They ask whether Chinese authorities would consider it reasonable to notify site owners that their sites are being blocked in China to avoid inadvertent blockages, which sometimes occur.