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Threats to Int'l Internet Freedom Taken Up by Trio of House Panels

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Location: Washington, DC

The challenges to Internet freedom recently culminating in Russia, China and 87 other countries signing a treaty were the focus of a congressional hearing today by three House subcommittees, including the panel chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

"We are going to have to work to defend Internet freedom against a very large number of countries that want to regulate it through the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency," said Smith of the new treaty signed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai in December 2012. "The treaty touches on vital issues of Internet governance in ways our country objected to - and in fact the United States and 54 other nations refused to sign. While the treaty is binding only on the signees, we have not heard the last of this issue." Click here to read Smith's opening statement.

The hearing, entitled "Fighting for Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond," which focused on recent international efforts to employ various government controls over the internet, was jointly held between members of Smith's subcommittee on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Smith is the author of a bill to address internet censorship conducted by repressive regimes around the world called the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), or H.R. 491.

The lead-off testimony was given by Robert M. McDowell, Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Also testifying were Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary of the Keynan Ministry of Information and Communications, (via videoconference); David A. Gross, Former Coordinator of International Communications and Information Policy, U.S. Department of State; Sally Shipman Wentworth, Senior Manager of Public Policy, Internet Society; Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge. Click here to view their testimonies.

"The Internet can promote the spread of democracy and respect for human rights. Yet it can also be used by repressive governments to censor and surveil the Internet," Smith said.

GOFA would prevent U.S. information technology companies from collaborating with foreign dictators in their efforts to censor the Internet and spy on their own citizens. The bill is in response to regular reports of such human rights violations by governments seeking to control information and peaceful expression, and to track down political foes, religious dissidents, journalists and others. H.R. 491 would promote freedom of expression on the Internet, and seek to restore public confidence in the integrity of U.S. businesses operating in countries with repressive regimes.


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