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.

U.S. Income Inequality Has Not Increased: New Cato Study Demonstrates Weaknesses of Popular Data

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- It's become an unquestioned part of the conventional wisdom that income inequality is rising steadily and has been for two decades. In a new policy analysis, "Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased?" Cato Institute senior fellow Alan Reynolds shows that these claims are wrong in both their premises and their conclusions. "The widespread impression that the United States has experienced a large and continuous increase in income inequality since the 1970s is almost entirely dependent on the disingenuous practice of using estimates," writes Reynolds, "which are highly misleading, because of dramatic changes in the tax rules and tax reporting in recent decades." "The top 1 percent's share [of national income] jumped from 9.1 percent in 1985, when the top tax rate was 50 percent, to 13.2 percent in 1988 when the top tax rate dropped to 28 percent," Reynolds explains, but the change was not due to "a sudden two-year spurt in inequality. It was a sudden increase in the amount of high income reported on individual income tax returns rather than being concealed, deferred, or reported on corporate income tax returns." Reynolds notes that taxpayers are very responsive to changes in the law, so "a substantial reduction of top tax rates should be followed by a very substantial increase in the amount of income reported on tax returns. And [since 1986] that is exactly what happened." Once these facts are considered, Reynolds concludes, "There is no clear evidence of a significant and sustained increase in the inequality of U.S. incomes, wages, consumption, or wealth since the late 1980s." Policy Analysis Paper no. 586: Cato Institute: Contact: Alan Reynolds, senior fellow,, Samuel R. John, media relations manager, 202-789-5236, Evans Pierre, director of broadcasting, 202-789-5204, The Cato Institute is a nonpartisan public policy research foundation dedicated to broadening policy debate consistent with the traditional American principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.