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Hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs - "The Google Predicament: Transforming U.S. Cyberspace Policy to Advance Democracy, Security and Trade"


Location: Washington, DC

In a recent speech on 21st-Century statecraft, Secretary Clinton said the State Department is realigning its policies and priorities to harness and promote the power of the latest communication tools.

Her remarks illustrate the fact that new means of electronic communication have created both opportunities and challenges for those who formulate our national security and foreign policy.

While many congressional committees have looked at the issues of human rights, defense, and trade in connection with the Internet, it is time for us to consider a comprehensive approach to the increased worldwide use of cyber-technology.

This hearing will address what we're calling the "Google Predicament" because Google's experience over the past couple of months highlights the challenges in developing a cyber-specific foreign policy. The Internet is a useful tool to promote freedom and trade, but in some places it also serves as a means of censorship. It's a boon for U.S. business, but also a source of great vulnerability with respect to U.S. national security. Reconciling these conflicting policy challenges is a key mission for the Administration and, I believe, for this committee.

The latest communication technologies are being put to use to advance democracy and protect human rights. Widespread use of Twitter overcame the Iranian regime's ban on media coverage of last summer's election results and their aftermath. And a graphic video posted on YouTube of a young Iranian woman who was shot and killed during a protest galvanized world opinion, as it gave people an unvarnished look at the crackdown.

The Administration acknowledged the power of these communication tools just this past Monday by granting a general license for the transfer of social networking software to Iran and other repressive nations. This is an important and good step that will foster greater freedom of expression.

But paradoxically, cyber-technology also serves as a weapon of choice for repressive regimes. Under our former chairman, Tom Lantos, this committee examined closely how American companies, however passively, can and do facilitate censorship. Our colleague Chris Smith has also been very active in advancing the discussion of this subject.

The notion that American companies can heedlessly supply their software, routers, and information to governments that use them for repressive purposes is untenable. But preventing companies from engaging in trade with countries ruled by those repressive governments is equally untenable, for it would deny billions of people the ability to access the very information needed to support their resistance.

When it comes to human rights, there must be a way to balance the benefits of cyber-technology with its very real potential harms. A voluntary organization known as the Global Network Initiative, made up of human rights organizations and various companies, works directly on this issue. Regrettably, many companies have failed to join. As a result, we may consider legislation to address this issue. Providers of technology need to step up.

American companies did just that last year when Beijing mandated installation of the Green Dam-Youth Escort Software on all computers sold in China. This software program would have blocked Internet searches on politically sensitive subjects and made computers more vulnerable to hackers. Companies persuaded the United States government to protest the Green Dam requirement because it violated free trade obligations under WTO rules. We need to see that kind of public-private partnership at work across the board on issues involving cyber-security and Internet freedom.

It's also very much in the interest of U.S. business to make such a partnership work. Brand integrity of U.S. entities is at stake when someone hacks into and alters or steals the intellectual property of U.S. companies such as Google. Melissa Hathaway, author of President Obama's recent cyber-space policy review, suggests that the government may need to retool our intelligence and diplomatic communities to protect U.S. intellectual property abroad.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, is the way cyber-technology can be exploited to undermine our own security. Make no mistake: Not only are sophisticated and network-secure companies like Google vulnerable to attack from foreign countries, but the entire U.S. network faces assault on a daily basis. As recently noted by Deputy Defense Secretary Lynn, an adversarial nation could deploy hackers to take down U.S. financial systems, communications and infrastructure at a cost far below that of building a trillion-dollar fleet of jet fighters or an aircraft carrier.

China's alleged hacking of Google and subsequent reports that Google is partnering with the National Security Agency to analyze the attack raise some relevant questions for this committee: Does an unauthorized electronic intrusion constitute a violation of national sovereignty, equivalent to a physical trespass onto U.S. territory -- and if so, what's the appropriate response?

We also need to consider the foreign policy implications of offensive U.S. capabilities. The United States has much to lose from a lawless cyberspace, where countries can attack each other at will and engage in a perennial low-intensity cyber conflict.

We look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how we can simultaneously promote Internet freedom and deprive repressive regimes of the tools of cyber-repression; and how we can promote the global diffusion of the Internet while also protecting ourselves from cyber-attack.

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