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Google is working with the US government to try to make it illegal for countries to censor the Internet by using international trade rules.

The ad broker’s communications head, Robert Boorstin, told a Media Access Project audience in DC that Google “believes very strongly, as do other companies, that censorship is a trade barrier” and said a number of US government department were working together with the company to make a case to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The idea is that censored search results limit Google’s ability to enjoy fair trade and put local competitors (such as China’s Baidu search engine) at a commercial advantage.

The theme of censorship has become a Google favorite in recent months following a major failing out with Beijing after Google accused the Chinese government of trying to hack its systems in order to find information on dissidents. Google’s public policy blog also pointed out just a few days ago that the Vietnamese government had introduced legislation that would allow it to block websites and track users.

No doubt Google hopes that while it is fighting the Commies in the cause of “freedom,” no one will notice that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has accused the company of breaking privacy laws by, erm, snooping on people’s networks and illegally storing the data. Or that the White House’s Deputy CTO was recently reprimanded for inappropriate policy discussions with his former work colleagues at Google.

Nevertheless, the idea to use the WTO to force Beijing, among others, to limit censorship may have legs. It was first touted by EU vice-president Neelie Kroes last month and reported by Chinese newspapers after her visit to Beijing. European officials quickly downplayed the comments saying that a case needed to be built first. Enter Google and the US government.

But if Google’s fog-producing self-righteousness – not to mention Hillary Clinton’s desire to find a popular go-getting platform – isn’t enough, European businesses are keen to see free trade rules on data because of the move to mobile devices to access information – a market where Europe still dominates.

Of course any action through the WTO’s bureaucracy would take years but according to experts there is a possibility of it happening, particularly as China didn’t ask for a specific exemption for online services when it joined the WTO in 2001. ®

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