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Ayotte criticizes White House over Google video request

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. in 2011.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. in 2011. // Harry Hamburg/AP file photo

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., criticized the White House on Wednesday for suggesting that Google remove a controversial anti-Islam video from the its YouTube video-sharing site in response to violent protests in Egypt, Libya, and other predominantly Muslim countries.

“Google is a private company, and they’re going to take what actions they believe are appropriate where they conduct their business throughout the world,” Ayotte, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, told reporters. “But in our country, we believe in free speech, even if the speech is offensive and that’s part of our First Amendment. And so for here, I don’t think it was appropriate for the White House to call on them to pull the video down.”

Ayotte’s comments came in response to YouTube’s decision to remove access to the video in some countries in the wake of violent protests over the video in Egypt, Libya, and other countries, which led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi. YouTube denied that it took the action in response to a White House request.

“We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what's OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video -- which is widely available on the Web -- is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube,” a YouTube spokesman said. “However, we've restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal, such as India and Indonesia, as well as in Libya and Egypt given the very sensitive situations in these two countries. This approach is entirely consistent with principles we first laid out in 2007."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., agreed with Ayotte that Google should be allowed to do what it wants and added that the government should not play a role in dictating such moves.

It’s “different whether Google does it privately or whether the government would ban something. And I don’t like the government banning anything,” he said in a brief interview. “But I have no sympathy at all for people producing things that incite other countries not to like us, either.”

At least one lawmaker who has been vocal on Internet free-speech issues also did not take issue with Google’s move -- nor with the White House requesting such action.

“I think it was a business decision. I’m not going to Monday-morning quarterback it,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told National Journal. He led opposition in the Senate to anti-piracy legislation earlier this year because of concerns that it would stifle online free speech.

“Obviously, there are very significant reasons why they would do it. I start with the proposition, as you know, that free speech is so important, but I also understand, and it goes back in the history of our country to the implications of shouting fire in a crowded theater and a host of other judgments," he added.

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