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Gates: Internet Censorship Won't Work

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said Wednesday that attempts by governments to censor Web site contents were doomed, because banned information can seep out despite official injunctions.

"The ability to really withhold information no longer exists," Gates told a government forum on the Internet.

Gates said his company must comply with legal requirements in the countries where it operates.

Late last year, Microsoft shut down the site of a popular Chinese blogger at Beijing's request. The blog by Zhao Jing, writing under the pen name An Ti, appraised sensitive topics such as China's relations with Taiwan and media freedoms in China.

But the spread of free, private e-mail enabled users to disseminate information anyway, Gates said.

"You may be able to take a very visible Web site and say that something shouldn't be there, but if there's a desire by the population to know something ... it's going to get out very broadly" via e-mail, Gates said.

Some of Microsoft's rivals, including Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., also have hit problems with censorship in foreign countries.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's top lawyer, said Tuesday the company was tightening its policies regarding blocking Web journals.

The software company, based in Redmond, Washington, operates a popular blogging technology called MSN Spaces.

Smith said the changes would include efforts to make the banned content available to users elsewhere in the world even if Microsoft decided it had a legal duty to block it in a particular country.

Gates was in the Portuguese capital for a two-day Microsoft-sponsored forum for government leaders to examine ways of harnessing Internet technology to make the public sector more efficient.