Tech firms skip D.C.-China shindig

Politicians wanted to talk about human rights and China this Wednesday. But tech companies are staying away.

Several technology companies may skip a Congressional meeting on human rights, China and the Internet.

With less than two days left before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus' event, not one of the four companies--Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco--has agreed to send a representative, according to the caucus.

"We're definitely not going to see somebody from Cisco and Microsoft," caucus spokeswoman Lynne Weil said Monday. "We're obviously hopeful, but with less than 48 hours to go before the event, it's hard to imagine why we wouldn't have heard back."

The event comes a few days after Google opened a China-based censored version of its search engine. Google received reactions ranging from strident criticism to begrudging acceptance that censorship is the price of doing business with the Chinese Communist Party. According to the caucus' announcement, "instead of promoting freedom of speech and democracy, some U.S. companies have been charged with aiding--or at least complying with--Chinese Internet censorship."

Cisco said it couldn't send an executive for scheduling reasons but will send someone to a related Feb. 15 hearing. Yahoo and Google also said they plan to send representatives at that time. Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Because Wednesday's meeting is an informal event organized by a caucus, the companies cannot be compelled to testify. But the organizers of the Feb. 15 hearing under the auspices of the House International Relations Committee do have the authority to send subpoenas and could force the companies to send representatives.

"We do have subpoena power," said Brad Dayspring, a subcommittee spokesman. "There has been no decision made whether to use that or not."

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, raised eyebrows last week with his pointed attack on Google. He said in a statement that "Many Chinese have suffered imprisonment and torture in the service of truth--and now Google is collaborating with their persecutors."

A Cisco representative said his company is happy to educate members of Congress about the company's products and that routers and other products sold to China were off-the-shelf. "We have offered to have our Cisco D.C. representatives speak with any member of the caucus or their staffs on this issue outside of the meeting," the representative said. "As Rep. (Tom Lantos, D-Calif., co-chairman of the caucus) is the ranking member on the House International Relations full committee, we will hopefully be able to address any of his questions at the subcommittee hearing on the 15th."

CNET News.com's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

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