“Google should be our ally, not our target” – Coalition of Tibetans, Uyghurs, tech and China experts tells Google to drop Dragonfly, its bespoke censored search engine for China

Ahead of a U.S. Congressional Hearing that will examining Google’s transparency and accountability related to its data collection and use, global human rights campaigners – including a Senior Research Scientist and former Google employee – joined forces, urging Google to halt its controversial China-targeted ‘Dragonfly’ search engine, which they claim could cost many living in China their freedom.

The campaigners, who included Tibetan and Uyghur activists, Chinese human rights defenders and tech and ethical consumer specialists, used the 70th United Nations International Human Rights Day to stage joint media briefings and launch a wider campaign opposing the Dragonfly project.

 

 

 

 

Events began at 10am GMT, with an online briefing in which a group of campaigners and experts from Tibet, the UK, the US, India and East Turkestan outlined their concerns over Google’s plans to enter the Chinese market. The briefing, hosted on Zoom and Facebook Live, has already been viewed by over 7,000 people. A second briefing took place at 4pm GMT, with over 10,000 views so far.

The panellists highlighted how Chinese authorities are already imprisoning vast numbers of people for expressing their views online and urged tech titan Google to reconsider its plans to avoid becoming part of the “Chinese censorship infrastructure”.

During the conference Shahrezad Ghayrat, a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress and herself a refugee from East Turkestan living in Germany, explained the direct impact Chinese state web censorship is having on her own life:

“I have not spoken with my dad for the past two years. Imagine living in the 21st century and you can’t even say hi to your dad because if you contact him, his life will be at risk in an instant.”

Dr. Jack Poulson, a research scientist at Google prior to his resignation from the company earlier this year stated:

“In August of this year, it became clear through public reporting that Google had secretly decided to reverse course and build a version of its search engine [Dragonfly] which would censor for, and comply with the surveillance requests of, the Chinese government. More than 700 of current Google employees have now risked their careers by publicly standing in opposition to Dragonfly. It is time for Google to uphold its own principles and publicly end this regressive experiment.”

Poulson continued:
“I was working as a research scientist at Google at the time … and was shocked by the report, as it directly contradicted Google’s own AI Principles, which promised that Google would not: “design or deploy” a technology whose purpose “contravenes widely accepted principles of […] human rights.” At some point you do have to take a moral stand and say ‘this is too far.’”

Lhadon Tethong, Director of Tibet Action Institute added:

“At a time when we see a growing consensus amongst academics, activists, politicians and journalists that action must be taken to halt the crisis of repression unfolding in East Turkestan and Tibet, and that more must be done to push back on China’s authoritarian advance in the world, Google should be, with its incredible wealth and talent, working with us to find solutions to lift people up and help ease their suffering, not assisting the Chinese government to keep them in chains.”

Sarah Brooks, International Service for Human Rights’s Asia Advocate, noted:

‘The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights apply to all companies, including those in the ICT sector. On issues of due diligence, transparency, and avoiding human rights harm – all of which have been part of the discussion of Project Dragonfly – international standards are unequivocal: the expectations on a company, in this case Google, are not merely questions of doing good, or ‘not being evil’, but of international law.’

Further pressure mounted on Google as over dozens of organisations and individuals issued an Open Letter: Response to Google on Project Dragonfly, ahead of the U.S. congressional hearing.

Notes to editors:

1. The first of today’s two online briefings can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/InternationalTibetNetwork/videos/217704209179776/ and and the second can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/InternationalTibetNetwork/posts/2210346495666082

• SumOfUs have launched an online petition opposing the Dragonfly project, gathering over 50,000 signatures within days of going live, and this can be viewed here: https://actions.sumofus.org/a/google-cancel-project-dragonfly-1

• Free Tibet’s action highlighting their concerns with the Chinese search engine is launching today, and can be accessed here: https://secure.freetibet.org/tell-google-respect-human-rights?fbclid=IwAR2ePCFNsKM9RxMCu4xLOA5aEaRRfUe8tkJFhKyEpI2qnkaoZKhVRoZFQ8U

• An action page highlighting many of the key issues can be viewed here: https://stopgooglecensorship.online/

• Judiciary Committee hearing details: https://judiciary.house.gov/hearing/transparency-accountability-examining-google-and-its-data-collection-use-and-filtering-practices/

Speaker Biographies:
Lhadon Tethong is Director at Tibet Action Institute where she leads a team of technologists and rights advocates in developing and advancing open-source communication technologies, nonviolent strategies and training programs for Tibetans and others facing human rights abuses. https://tibetaction.net/ 

Rushan Abbas is a Uyghur-American activist and Director of Campaign for Uyghurs which  advocates for the human rights of the Uyghur people in East Turkistan. She currently has family in the concentration camps in East Turkestan. http://campaignforuyghurs.org/

Dr. Jack Poulson is a computational scientist and volunteer with the Tech Workers Coalition. He currently runs a small scientific computing company and was formerly a research scientist at Google and an assistant professor of mathematics at Stanford.

Sarah M Brooks is Asia Advocate at the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva, where she tracks in real time the changing tactics of China at the UN, and helps human rights defenders and organisations navigate the UN system to seek truth and accountability for human rights violations. https://www.ishr.ch/

Sondhya Gupta is Senior Campaigner at the consumer organisation SumOfUs, a global community of millions dedicated to stopping big corporations behaving badly. We use our power as consumers, workers and investors to hold the biggest companies in the world to account. https://www.sumofus.org/

Dechen Pemba is the editor of High Peaks Pure Earth, a website that offers translations, news, and commentary from Tibetan cyberspace and social media. Born in the UK, Dechen has been a lobbyist and campaigner on Tibet and served as a consultant on Tibet-related issues for various non-for-profit organisations. https://highpeakspureearth.com/

Lobsang Gyatso is Digital Security Program Director at Tibet Action Institute. He is a Tibetan born in exile dedicated to increasing cyber security among Tibetans inside Tibet and in the diaspora. Lobsang was an IFF fellow at the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival responsible for helping to create and curate the programming for the festival. He is currently an advisory board member of the Citizen Clinic, a public-interest cybersecurity clinic at the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at UC Berkeley. https://tibetaction.net/

Dr. Teng Biao is a Chinese human rights lawyer and scholar. One of the earliest promoters of the Rights Defense Movement in China, he co-founded two human rights NGOs – the Open Constitution Initiative and China Against the Death Penalty. He is currently a visiting fellow at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University.

Mi Ling Tsui is the Communications Director at Human Rights in China and a member of HRIC’s international policy and advocacy team. https://www.hrichina.org/en

Sophie Richardson is the China director at Human Rights Watch.  https://www.hrw.org/

John Jones is the Campaigns and Advocacy Manager for Free Tibet. The organisation was established in 1987 with the vision of a Tibet where Tibetans are able to determine their own future and the human rights of all living there are respected.  https://www.freetibet.org

Shahrezad Ghayrat is the project assistant of the World Uyghur Congress, an organization representing the collective interests of the Uyghur population living in East Turkistan and abroad. Shahrezad was born in East Turkestan but migrated to Australia with her family a decade ago and since then she has been an Uyghur human rights advocate.

Dorjee Tseten is the Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet International and an elected member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. www.studentsforafreetibet.org

Nathan Freitas is Director of Technology at Tibet Action Institute.  He also leads the Guardian Project, an effort to build secure, open-source mobile solutions for activists, journalists, and human rights organisations. https://guardianproject.info/

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