The Internet Debate Heats Up in Congress

Thu Feb. 16, 2006 10:55 PM EST

Yesterday the Congress human rights subcommittee held a seven-hour hearing on the internet censorship debate. Republicans and Democrats chastised internet giants Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco for allowing the Chinese government to limit citizens' access to preapproved websites. Tom Lantos (D-CA), co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, accused the four companies of "nauseating collaboration with a regime of repression," while Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) equated support for China's totalitarianism with assistance to the Nazi's during World War II. Smith later brought Google to center stage, mocking their motto "Don't Be Evil", calling the conglomerate "evil's accomplice."

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Smith hasalready sponsored a bill in Congress that will dictate a set of new mandatory procedures for internet companies. Expected to be introduced in the next several days, the bill would mandate that:

  • Any U.S. corporation that offers a search service "may not" alter its results in response to the request of an "Internet-restricting country." That last phrase would apparently permit ongoing censorship by Western nations such as Germany, which requires Google to filter Nazi-related sites from search results, and the United States, which imposes a similar requirement on search engines as a result of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  • Search-engine companies must provide the Office of Global Internet Freedom--a new federal bureaucracy that would be created under the bill--with a list of verboten search terms that have been "provided by any foreign official of an Internet-restricting country."
  • Any Web site with operations in the U.S. must regularly provide the Office of Global Internet Freedom with a list of content deleted or blocked at the request of an Internet-restricting country.
  • A new set of federal regulations--apparently aimed at Cisco's routers and software used by the other companies--would be erected to criminalize certain exports to China, Iran, Vietnam and other Internet-restricting nations. Current law permits the export of "publicly available technology and software" to those nations. Those exports would no longer be permitted if software or hardware is exported for the purpose of "facilitating Internet censorship."
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