Google evaded questions Wednesday regarding its plan for a censored search engine in China while attending a hearing in front of the Senate.
Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer, declined to provide specifics when confronted over the secretive project, codenamed Dragonfly.
A prototype of the search engine, first revealed by The Intercept last month, blacklists terms including “Nobel prize” and “human rights” and requires users to sign in and be tracked.
During an exchange with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Enright, who acknowledged Dragonfly’s existence, argued the project was not ready for launch and denied knowing whether it involved a search engine.
“I am not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope for that project,” Enright said. “But I can say that if we were close to launching a search project in China, myself and my team would be very actively engaged to ensure that it was going through the appropriate privacy review process and that it was consistent with our privacy values and the commitments that we’ve made to our users.”
When simply asked whether China engages in censorship against its citizens, Enright claimed he was unable to properly answer the question.
“As the privacy representative for Google I’m not sure that I have an informed opinion on that question,” Enright added.
Google previously began operating in China in 2006 but pulled out of the country in 2010 after finding that the Communist government was censoring users and hacking the Google accounts of dissidents.
The hearing comes just days after a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged the company to answer questions on their plans for China.
“Google should not be helping China crack down on free speech and political dissent,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) tweeted earlier this month. “I just sent this letter with some of my Republican and Democratic colleagues raising our serious concerns and questions about what they’re doing.”
Other letters, including those from more than 1,400 Google employees as well as 14 human rights organizations, have also been sent to the company.
A former Google research scientist, Jack Poulson, also came forward this month after resigning in protest of the censorship project.