WASHINGTON, D.C.–Addressing a Capitol Hill audience on Thursday, May 10, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that American technologies were enabling repressive governments like China and Iran to turn the Internet into a “weapon of mass surveillance.”
“In 2006 I held the first major hearing on Internet freedom,” Rep. Smith said. “Even in 2006 the technologies to track, monitor, block, filter, trace, remove, attack, hack, and remotely take over Internet activity, content and users allowed the Chinese government to massively censor and surveil the Internet. Just as disturbing was the involvement of Western companies and technology… that enabled the Chinese, as well as the Iranian and other governments to transform the Internet into a `weapon of mass surveillance.’” (Click here to read Cong. Smith’s remarks about internet freedom.)
The Thursday event, hosted by the Center for a New American Security, highlighted the need for the U.S. to focus on global internet freedom as a foreign policy priority. Joining Chairman Smith at the event was Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-chair of the Senate Global Internet Freedom Caucus.
Smith said he believes the Global Online Freedom Act of 2012 (H.R. 3605) will ensure that U.S. companies are not complicit in human rights abuses abroad. He introduced this legislation in December and in March it was passed by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. (Click here to read the amended text of H.R. 3605.)
“This legislation is now even more relevant because…technological developments have given repressive governments even more control over the Internet in their countries,” Smith said.
The Global Online Freedom Act requires the State Department to identify by name Internet-restricting countries. It also requires Internet companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) how they conduct their human rights due diligence, including with regard to the collection and sharing of personally identifiable information with repressive countries, in addition to the steps they take to notify users when they remove content or block access to content.
The Global Online Freedom Act has been supported by Yahoo! and many leading human rights organizations, including Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and Access. (Click here to read Yahoo!’s letter of support; click here to read letters of support from human rights NGOs.)
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.