U.S. Congressman Chris Smith said that top American technology companies are failing to prevent censorship and other human rights abuses in China, writing Saturday in a letter to The Wall Street Journal."There is enormous profit potential, but entering the Chinese market means challenging a repressive regime on basic human rights tenets. Sadly, some of America\u2019s largest tech firms are currently failing this new test of corporate responsibility," wrote Smith, a Republican from New Jersey and a member of the Foreign Services Committee.Smith said that representatives from Yahoo, Google, Cisco Systems and Microsoft appeared at an April 2006 congressional hearing he convened, and "they all acknowledged that their companies have enabled dictatorships to censor democracy and human rights promotion on the Internet." He also said that "Yahoo and Cisco have even helped the Chinese government incarcerate Internet users for pro-democracy activity." Court documents and evidence from human rights groups have shown that Yahoo\u2019s Hong Kong subsidiary, Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong), cooperated with Chinese police in cases against journalist Shi Tao and political activist Li Zhi, and that material provided by the company may have led to their conviction. Shi was sentenced to 10 years\u2019 imprisonment, Li to eight years. In January, Smith re-introduced "The Global Online Freedom Bill of 2007," which would give individuals like Shi and Li the right to seek redress in U.S. courts, if they believe their freedom of expression was compromised by a U.S. company. Internet companies would be required to inform the Office of Global Internet Freedom\u2014to be created if the bill is signed into law\u2014of keywords and search parameters they are filtering. They\u00a0would also have to notify the office of any restrictions on Internet information access with which they must comply in order to do business in a foreign country.Companies can be fined up to US$2 million for violation of these principles, with individuals liable for up to $100,000. The bill provides for $50 million to establish the Office of Global Internet Freedom.The bill cited nine countries, including China, Iran and North Korea, for blocking, restricting, and monitoring the Internet and its citizens\u2019 use of it, according to a Jan. 8 statement from Smith\u2019s office.Later in January, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Vodafone Group agreed to develop a code of conduct with a coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to promote freedom of expression and privacy rights. The parties involved said they would develop a framework that would hold signatories accountable for their actions in the areas of freedom of expression and privacy rights. Eighteen NGOs are participating in the guidelines\u2019 development, including: Berkman Center for Internet\u00a0and Society at Harvard Law School, Business for Social Responsibility, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.One observer felt the tech firms were now between a rock and a hard place. "Technology companies now have the unenviable position of moving into the media realm, which is tightly controlled in China," said Danny Levinson, publisher of BDL Media\u2019s ChinaCSR.com and the China CSR monthly magazine. "When dealing with corporate social responsibility in China, foreign technology companies are easier targets than firms in other sectors because they are much more high profile than, say, the mining companies providing poor labor oversight and textile companies polluting the environment," Levinson said.-Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service (Beijing Bureau)\u00a0Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.