China RAN action – August 2008

China Regional Action Network – August 2008

Global Online Freedom Act

Concerns: Freedom of expression, imprisonment of prisoners of conscience

Summary:
In many countries, the Internet has given people unprecedented opportunities to communicate with each other and to learn about the outside world. But repressive governments are making Internet and technology companies allies in their repression.

China, for example, has asked Yahoo! to turn over to its secret police the names of political dissidents who send sensitive information over email. One such dissident, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being identified by Yahoo!. China has also convinced Microsoft to shut down Internet blogs in which Chinese users were criticizing their government, and persuaded Google to censor its search engine results. Chinese citizens using Google’s Chinese search engine now cannot even learn of the existence of information about human rights and democracy on the Internet.

The Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 (GOFA) has been proposed in Congress to help stop U.S. companies from teaming up with foreign governments to violate human rights. The legislation would make it more difficult for foreign governments to obtain Internet user information from U.S. companies when seeking to punish dissidents exercising their right to free expression, and would alert the U.S. government as to what subject matter these governments are asking U.S. companies to remove or block access to on the Internet.

This bill would help ensure that the Internet remains an open forum for free expression in every part of the world, and help American companies resist pressure from foreign governments to compromise their principles. The key provisions of the Act:

  • Prohibit U.S. companies from locating personally identifiable information in a foreign country that represses freedom of expression;
  • Restrict U.S. companies from providing foreign repressive governments with personally identifiable information of users (except for legitimate law enforcement purposes);
  • Require U.S. companies to report to Congress on the content they are blocking or filtering.

Internet companies have an invaluable role to play in the realization of freedom of expression and information. This bill helps them to fulfill that role by requiring them to tell the U.S. government what terms they are using to filter, limit or affect search results based on a request or policy of a repressive government, and the content they are removing or blocking. This is essential if we are to combat restrictions on freedom of expression for people around the world.

Background:
Amnesty International, along with other key NGOs, has issued a joint statement of support for this groundbreaking legislation.

Take Action:
Please send polite letters to Howard Berman, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, expressing your support for GOFA:

  • Urge him to support the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007, H.R. 275, without any amendments that would hinder its ability to prevent U.S. Internet technology companies from cooperating with repressive governments attempting to limit freedom of expression and access to information.
  • Ask him to protect the key provisions of the Act, which prohibit U.S. companies from locating personally identifiable information in a country that represses freedom of expression and resist providing repressive governments with personally identifiable information of users (except for legitimate law enforcement purposes).
  • Inform him that the Chinese Government pressured Yahoo! to turn over to its police the names of political dissidents who use the company’s e-mail service, convinced Microsoft to shut down Internet blogs in which Chinese users were criticizing their government, and persuaded Google to censor its search engine results.

Address:

Congressman Howard L. Berman
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
2221 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Phone: (202) 225-4695
Fax: (202) 225-3196

A sample letter to Congressman Berman is available in MS Word.

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