Friday, March 12, 2010

Internet Freedom Act of 2010?

It's just a bill in committee. Far from finalized, it could easily be changed, might die in committee, or otherwise disappear. But it's intriguing nonetheless. Apparently, some congressional representatives feel a need to respond to some of the more egregious forms of internet censorship now going on around the world. They're probably thinking of the well-documented standoff between Google corp. and the government of China, or nearly-as-infamous restrictions in Iran, Tunisia, and some other countries.  If they're more aware of the outside world than most Americans, they might also be thinking of government blacklists of selected internet sites already implemented in New Zealand, close to implementation in Australia, and under consideration in some European countries.

The proposed response is H. R. 4784, the Internet Freedom Act of 2010, presently under consideration in the House Committee on Science and Technology. Clearly intended to be international in scope, the bill says, in part, that "findings" of the U.S. Congress include:  
"The Internet is a transformative force and stands to become the most powerful engine for citizen empowerment, transparency, and the free exchange of ideas ever invented."
"Any government, or government sanctioned, supported, authorized, or endorsed entity, either explicitly or implicitly, that blocks, restricts, controls, or monitors any person's use of the Internet effectively transforms the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance, in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
The short bill gives the following definition of a key term:
"The term 'Internet suppression' means censoring, blocking, monitoring, or restricting access to the Internet, or to content made available via the Internet, by using technologies such as firewalls, filters, and 'black boxes'"
Among the things the bill would suggest that the U.S. Congress "should" do is:
"Support the deployment, at the earliest practicable date, of technologies aimed at defeating state-directed and state-sponsored Internet suppression and the persecution by governments and private entities of those individuals who use the Internet."
This last point would put the U.S. government in the business of funding technologies for bypassing or disabling internet filtering software and/or hardware.

Strong language from government representatives who appear to be laboring under the mythology that censorship is something that happens "over there." As written, at least so far, the bill carves out no exceptions for different types of internet content. Among those governments that this bill would find to be in contravention of various international statements of civil and human rights is that of the United States. The U.S. government still maintains the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), requiring libraries that accept certain government funds to impose internet filters that block access to some kinds of internet content.  It will be interesting to see how this contradiction in U.S. law is resolved, assuming the Internet Freedom Act of 2010 goes forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment