Baidu, the most popular search engine in China, is known to censor search results. Given the Great Firewall that is present in the country, it has always been assumed that the Chinese government is behind the censorship. Even though the US is not a fan of these measures, a US Judge has ruled that the way Baidu displays search results is protected by the first amendment.
This ruling goes against the pro-democracy groups who filed the lawsuit, claiming that the suppression of certain political speech and other media is illegal. However, since Baidu is a private company and is simply showing what it wants people to see, the US has no authority to tell it to stop, according to Judge Jesse Furman.
The First Amendment protects Baidu’s right to advocate for systems of government other than democracy (in China or elsewhere) just as surely as it protects plaintiffs’ rights to advocate for democracy, – Jesse Furman
In order to justify the ruling, Furman said that what Baidu is doing is similar to what a newspaper does. If a news organization were to only publish pro-Chinese content, it would not be breaking the law. Therefore, Furman says that Baidu is also exercising free speech in its censorship.
Luckily, there are other search engines that can be accessed inside of China. On top of that, Google recently rolled out keyword encryption which will make it more difficult for China to block certain results.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs said that they would be appealing the ruling.
The court has laid out a perfect paradox: That it will allow the suppression of free speech, in the name of free speech, – Stephen Preziosi, lawyer, for plaintiffs
It may appear to be paradoxical, but from a strict legal standpoint, there is definitely some backing for the judge’s ruling. If Baidu were reporting people to the Chinese government because they searched for something, things would be different. However, the search engine is simply not showing results. As bad as this may be in the eyes of a US citizen or pro-democracy group in China, it is not a situation where the US Constitution has much of a say.
Question – Was the Judge’s ruling correct or is Baidu going against free speech?
Summary: A US Judge has ruled in favor of Baidu, the largest search engine in China. Activists had complained that Baidu’s censorship of search results went against free speech but the judge did not agree.
image credit: thenextweb