Smith Will Reintroduce Global Online Freedom Act in 110th Congress

December 21st, 2006 Print Print Email Email

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — At a State Department’s briefing on its new strategy on global Internet freedom, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) today praised the agency for taking a first step to promote Internet freedom and announced that he plans to reintroduce the “Global Online Freedom Act” to expand the government’s efforts to promote free expression and a free flow of information on the Internet in every country.

“This is a historic day. Today, the U.S. is taking the first step toward tearing down the Great Firewall. The repressive regimes and the businesses that enable the censorship, political persecution and stifling of human rights need to understand that there will be more scrutiny to follow and they must change their ways,” said Smith — Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations– and a driving force behind exposing internet abuses by dictatorships andU.S. corporations who have been complicit in helping repressive regimes.

The State Department’s Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT) Strategy announced today is organized around three priorities — monitoring Internet freedom in countries around the world, responding to challenges to Internet freedom and expanding access to the Internet. The GIFT Strategy aims to achieve these priorities by — among other things — spotlighting and protesting abuses of Internet freedom, pressing the message of Internet freedom in official dialogue and promoting innovative approaches to combat Internet censorship.

Smith, who in February of 2006 held a landmark seven-hour hearing on the issue of internet freedom, said this strategy “sends the message that the U.S. government means business.”

Smith added, “This new strategy puts internet repressive regimes on notice and shows we mean business, but it also sends a message to the corporations that are enabling these abuses that it is good business to promote human rights.”

“The Global Online Freedom Act” seeks to codify the U.S. strategy announced today and go further 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.

“There are two pillars to every dictatorship — secret police and propaganda. The Internet companies that comply with these regimes enable dictatorships to impose both pillars by allowing them to spread lies and find people whose only crime is wanting freedom and democracy,” said Smith.

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 willingly assisted repressive regimes censor information, monitor Internet usage and punish political dissidents.

Smith first introduced his legislation just days after he convened his day long hearing at which representatives from the major US 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 “Global Online Freedom Act” was approved by the House International Relations Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee earlier this year, but time ran out before it could be considered by the full House during the 109th Congress.

“These dictatorships have enlisted American companies to aid and abet their Internet censorship campaigns to prevent the spread of democracy and quash any discussion of dissent. We need to make it clear to these companies that they need to understand they have a responsibility to stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor. My bill will hold them to that
standard and I will work to enact it into law in the next Congress,” said Smith.

Contact: Patrick Creamer of the Office of U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, +1-202-225-3765

SOURCE U.S. Rep. Chris Smith

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