Cox and Wyden Introduce Global Internet Freedom Act

October 10, 2002. On October 2, Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) introduced HR 5524, the Global Internet Freedom Act, in the House. On October 10, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced S 3093, the companion bill in the Senate. The bill creates, and authorizes funding for, a new Office of Global Internet Freedom to counter Internet jamming and blocking by repressive regimes.

The legislation states that "All people have the right to communicate freely with others, and to have unrestricted access to news and information, on the Internet." However, it continues that "The governments of Burma, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Vietnam, among others, are taking active measures to keep their citizens from freely accessing the Internet and obtaining international political, religious, and economic news and information."

The bill recites that "Intergovernmental, nongovernmental, and media organizations have reported the widespread and increasing pattern by authoritarian governments to block, jam, and monitor Internet access and content, using technologies such as firewalls, filters, and `black boxes´. Such jamming and monitoring of individual activity on the Internet includes surveillance of e-mail messages, message boards, and the use of particular words; `stealth blocking´ individuals from visiting websites; the development of `black lists´ of users that seek to visit these websites; and the denial of access to the Internet."

It further states that "The Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, as well as hundreds of news sources with an Internet presence, are routinely being jammed by repressive governments." See also, story titled "AEI Panel Advocates ``Freeing the Chinese Internet´´" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 416, April 23, 2002. A representative of the Voice of America (VOA) spoke about the blocking of the VOA web site by the government of the Peoples Republic of China.

The bill would create a new office within the International Broadcasting Bureau named the Office of Global Internet Freedom. Its task would be to "develop and implement a comprehensive global strategy to combat state sponsored and state directed Internet jamming, and persecution of those who use the Internet." The bill also authorizes the appropriation of $50 Million for fiscal years 2003 and 2004.

The bill also states that it is the sense of the Congress that the U.S. should "deploy, at the earliest practicable date, technologies aimed at defeating state directed Internet censorship and the persecution of those who use the Internet."

Rep. Cox and Sen. Wyden have collaborated many times in the past on Internet related legislation, usually with success. For example, the two led the effort in the 105th Congress to pass the Internet Tax Freedom Act.

  Rep. Cox

Rep. Cox stated in a release that "Today, however, just as past governments have banned pamphlets, jammed radios, and committed their gravest atrocities out of the range of TV cameras, many governments are attempting to restrict an individual’s freedom to receive and exchange information by blocking the Internet. Our legislation will help end that abuse. The success of U.S. policy in support of freedom of speech, press, and association requires new initiatives to defeat totalitarian controls over the Internet."

Sen. Wyden stated that "Openness, transparency, and the unfettered flow of information have always been the allies of freedom and democracy. Over time, nothing erodes oppression and intolerance like the widespread dissemination of knowledge and ideas. And technology has often played a key role in this process. From the printing press to radio, technological advances have revolutionized the spread information and ideas and opened up new horizons for people everywhere. Not surprisingly, the foes of freedom, understanding the threat these technologies pose, have often responded with such steps as censoring the press, jamming radio broadcasts, and putting media outlets under state control." See, Congressional Record, October 10, 2002, at S10369.

Sen. Wyden  

He continued that "governments that fear freedom are trying to rein in the technology's potential. They block access to websites. They censor websites and email. They interrupt Internet search engines when users try explore the ``wrong´´ topics. They closely monitor citizens' Internet usage and make it known that those who visit the ``wrong´´ websites will be punished. Or they prevent Internet access altogether, by prohibiting ownership of personal computers."

Sen. Wyden also said that "There are technologies that can help defeat the firewalls and filters that these governments choose to erect. Proxy servers, intermediaries, ``mirrors,´´ and encryption may all have useful applications in this regard. But the U.S. Government has done little to promote technological approaches. This country devotes considerable resources to combat the jamming of Voice of America broadcasting abroad. But to date, it has budgeted only about $1 million for technologies to counter Internet jamming and censorship."

He concluded that "This country can and should do better. The Internet is too important a communications medium, and its potential as a force for freedom and democracy is too great, to make a second rate effort in this area."