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Firms snub congressional briefing on China

Microsoft and Cisco Systems have turned down an invite to attend a Feb. 1 congressional briefing on freedom of speech and the Internet in China, according to a report from AFP News. Google and Yahoo have not yet given a final answer on whether they will attend, according to the report.

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus asked the companies to attend the briefing following Google's announcement last week that it will launch versions of its search and news Web sites in China that censor material deemed objectionable to authorities there.

An investigation published Thursday by CNET showed that Google's new China search engine not only censored criticisms of the Chinese government, but went further than similar services from Microsoft and Yahoo by targeting sites related to teen pregnancy, alcohol, dating and homosexuality.

The search giant's move has been sharply criticized by human-rights advocates. The company, however, isn't alone in acquiescing to Chinese authorities--Yahoo and Microsoft have also done so.

On Friday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates , including his own, that do business in China even when they are required to agree to censorship.

The Internet is "contributing to Chinese political engagement" as "access to the outside world is preventing more censorship," Gates was quoted as saying in an article in The Times Online.

At the Feb. 1 briefing, members of Congress are expected to ask companies about the steps they take to filter sensitive information in China and the amount of pressure they are under by the Chinese government to take such measures.