Human Rights Watch presses tech leaders ahead of China meetings

Human Rights Watch presses tech leaders ahead of China meetings
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Human Rights Watch is asking U.S. technology executives to press Chinese President Xi Jinping about the country’s censorship, surveillance and data collection during meetings next week. 

Kenneth Roth, the head of the advocacy group, sent letters to the heads of major technology companies, asking that they at least publicly commit “not to enable government abuses of freedom of expression and privacy in China.”


“Your firms’ robust criticisms of the US government’s mass surveillance practices set a standard that you should not lower for China,” Roth wrote in a letter to the heads of Apple, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Facebook and Uber. 

The Chinese president is slated to visit Seattle next week to give a policy speech and sit in on a roundtable with U.S. and China tech executives. He is also slated to visit the headquarters of Microsoft.

The stop comes ahead of a state dinner at the White House and meeting with President Obama, amid tensions about a flood of cyber hacks on U.S. institutions. 

U.S. businesses, including the technology industry, see huge growth potential in the Chinese market, even with its policy of limiting access to some parts of the Internet and amid its increasing national security laws in the country. 

Following the passage of a cybersecurity law, the Chinese government has reportedly been asking U.S. tech firms operating in the country to commit to storing Chinese user data within its borders and potentially forcing companies to build backdoors for the government to access the data in certain situations. 

“It is important to remember that foreign technology companies have considerable leverage over the Chinese government,” Human Rights Watch wrote in the letter. “Your companies develop some of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies that are much needed by a Chinese government with strong desires to propel its economy forward.”

The Paulson Institute is cohosting the roundtable next week in Seattle, and CEOs from Amazon, Cisco Systems, Apple, Microsoft, IBM and others are slated to attend, according to a cached version of the press release. 

The New York Times previously reported that Facebook, Google and Uber had also been invited to the forum next week with Chinese officials. But the Paulson Institute did not list them as participants.