Freedom House Urges Vote on Global Online Freedom Act
Freedom House urges the United States House of Representatives to adopt a bill that would help American technology companies resist pressure to cooperate with repressive regimes.
In a letter Tuesday, Freedom House called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), HR 275, to a vote on the floor of the House. The bill is critical to U.S. efforts to combat internet censorship and to promote freedom of expression worldwide.
"Dozens of repressive regimes restrict freedom of expression by deploying censorship technologies," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor in the letter. "As congressional hearings and human rights reports have amply documented, some of these technologies originated from U.S. companies, and China has exploited personal data on internet users provided by a U.S. company to commit human rights abuses."
Although the U.S. technology industry is developing voluntary standards for conduct, Freedom House believes a federal law is necessary to protect U.S. companies from becoming involved in censorship and surveillance efforts.
The text of the letter is below:
May 27, 2008
Honorable Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House of Representatives
Room H-232, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi:
I am writing to urge you to bring the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), HR 275, to a vote on the floor of the House. GOFA is critical for U.S. efforts to combat internet censorship and to promote freedom of expression online.
Dozens of repressive regimes restrict freedom of expression by deploying censorship technologies, conducting surveillance on internet users, and collecting personal data online to intimidate and prosecute their critics. As congressional hearings and human rights reports have amply documented, some of these technologies originated from U.S. companies, and China has exploited personal data on internet users provided by a U.S. company to commit human rights abuses.
U.S. technology companies have introduced internal codes of conduct and engaged in a multi-stakeholder dialogue to draft voluntary global principles for the protection of privacy and free expression. However, this dialogue has dragged on for about two years, and even if it produces a consensus, there is little reason to believe that voluntary principles will suffice to shield U.S. companies from pressure to collaborate in internet censorship and surveillance. GOFA will provide strong protection to U.S. companies against such pressure, because they will be able to point to the penalties contained in GOFA as reason to rebuff demands for collaboration with internet censors and other violators of human rights.
Critics raise the concern that GOFA may lead repressive governments to retaliate and to drive U.S. technology companies out of foreign markets. This concern is greatly exaggerated. The products and services of U.S. technology companies are far superior to those developed elsewhere, and countries that drive out U.S. technology companies will become less competitive economically. Rather than put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage, GOFA is likely to raise international standards for business to protect and advance internet freedom, much as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act led to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. The European Parliament already is expected to consider a bill similar to GOFA.
Moreover, if U.S. companies are open to collaboration in online censorship and surveillance, their presence in internet-restricting countries will do more to harm than to promote internet freedom. U.S. companies can only do more to promote than to harm internet freedom if they are required to resist pressure from repressive governments to infringe on privacy protections and free expression online.
Freedom House rarely takes a position on draft legislation before the U.S. Congress. When it has done so, Freedom House has supported bills that were critical to the advancement of human rights globally. The Global Online Freedom Act is such a bill.
You have spoken eloquently on numerous occasions about the need for governments around the world to respect the fundamental freedoms of their citizens and to uphold the basic human rights and dignity to which all people of the world are entitled. A vote on GOFA would present a historic opportunity to advance those rights and freedoms.
I strongly urge you to bring the Global Online Freedom Act to a vote in the House.
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