Senior executives from four of America's largest technology corporations - Cisco Systems, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo - appeared Wednesday before a Congressional hearing to explain their compliance with Chinese censorship demands.

In a display of anger at the foursome's deference to the Beijing purgers, lawmakers accused them of being "surrogate government censors".

The US quartet sang from the same defensive songsheet. Other than keeping email and internet servers offshore, pleaded these titans of global commerce, they had few options other than declining to trade in repressive countries.

Although Google wasn't ashamed of its Chinese cave-in, said vp of global communications Elliott Schrage, nor was it "appropriate to say we're proud of our decision".

Yahoo, cited "local law" as justification for it's Chinese affiliate's passing subscribers' emails to the authorities. Senior vp and general counsel Michael Callahan called the subsequent arrest of Chinese journalist Shi Tao - a direct consequence of the handover - as "horrible and disturbing."

Callahan's 'horror' failed to impress Representative Christopher Smith (Republican, New Jersey): "My response to that is: If the secret police a half century ago asked where Anne Frank was hiding, would the correct answer be to hand over the information in order to comply with local laws?"

Smith invited the quartet and other internet companies to help "bring down the Great Firewall of China."

Meantime, the State Department intends to form a Global Internet Freedom taskforce to help technology companies resist censorship demands from foreign governments. The quartet said they embraced that proposal.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff