Monday, January 08, 2007

Smith Reintroduces the Global Online Freedom Act

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) announced today that he has reintroduced legislation which aims to promote free expression and a free flow of information on the Internet by preventing U.S. companies from aiding regimes who restrict access to the Internet. "American high-tech firms have produced the technology and know-how that has led to a modern-day information revolution. However, instead of working to allow everyone to benefit from these advancements, these same high-tech firms are colluding with dictators to suppress the spread of information and punish pro-democracy advocates," said Smith. The "Global Online Freedom Act of 2007" will strengthen the federal government's new strategy to promote online freedom by prohibiting U.S. Internet companies from cooperating with repressive regimes that restrict information about human rights and democracy on the Internet and use personally identifiable information to track down and punish democracy activists. The bill would make it a crime for Internet companies to turn over personal information to governments who use that information to suppress dissent. "American companies should not be working hand-in-glove with dictators. By blocking access to information and providing secret police with the technology to monitor dissidents, American IT companies are knowingly-and willingly-enabling the oppression of millions of people," Smith said in reference to companies who are complicit in helping dictators restrict free access to the Internet. Smith first introduced his legislation just days after he convened a landmark seven-hour hearing at which representatives from major tech Internet firms Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Cisco Systems testified that they have complied with censorship laws and/or provided personally identifiable information about Internet users to repressive regimes in countries where they do business. The bill was approved by the House subcommittee that had jurisdiction of human rights during the 109th Congress, but the session ended before the bill could be brought before the full House for a vote. Authoritarian regimes including China, Belarus, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Tunisia and Vietnam are all known to block, restrict and monitor the free flow of information on the Internet. In some of the more egregious cases, democracy activists have been tracked down and incarcerated for their online communications. American IT companies Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Cisco Systems have assisted repressive regimes who censor information, monitor Internet usage and punish political dissidents. "By helping dictators stifle free speech and spy on dissidents, American IT companies are putting profits before principles," said Smith. Smith said he felt positive about the prospects for Congressional approval of the "Global Online Freedom Act of 2007" in the 110th Congress, especially in light of recent efforts by shareholders to pressure these companies to change their business practices with repressive countries. Last November, 29% of Cisco Systems shareholders voted for an unprecedented resolution that would have forced the company to account for its activities in repressive countries. "Investors are taking notice of the repressive business practices of these Internet companies and are starting to voice their opposition in masses. Corporations need to heed these concerns and understand that it is good business to promote human rights, not suppress them," said Smith. Specifically, the "Global Online Freedom Act of 2007": * Prohibits US companies from disclosing to foreign officials of an "Internet Restricting Country" information that personally identifies a particular user except for "legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes;" * Creates a private right of action for individuals aggrieved by the disclosure of such personal identification to file suit in any US district court; * Prohibits US internet service providers from blocking online content of US government or US-government financed sites; * Authorizes $50 million for a new interagency office within the State Department charged with developing and implementing a global strategy to combat state-sponsored internet jamming by repressive countries; * Requires the new Office of Global Internet Freedom to monitor filtered terms; and to work with Internet companies and the non-profit sector to develop a voluntary code of minimum corporate standards related to Internet freedom. * Requires Internet companies to disclose to the new Office of Global Internet Freedom the terms they filter and the parameters they must meet in order to do business in Internet Restricting Countries; * Requires the President to submit to Congress an annual report designating as an "Internet Restricting Country" any nation that systematically and substantially restrict internet freedom; * Establishes civil penalties for businesses (up to $2 million) and individuals (up to $100,000) for violations of the new requirements; * Mandates a feasibility study, by the Department of Commerce, to determine what type of restrictions and safeguards should be imposed on the export of computer equipment which could be used in an Internet Restricting Country to restrict Internet freedom. Contact: Patrick Creamer of the Office of U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, +1-202-225-3765.


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