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U.S. Draft Legislation to Counter Self-Censorship on Internet Contents

A new draft legislation will help protect the rights of people in overly 'Internet-restricting' countries to assess information in face of self-censorship on search engine.
( [email protected] ) Feb 20, 2006 09:02 PM EST

A new draft legislation will help protect the rights of people in overly "Internet-restricting" countries to assess information in face of self-censorship on search engine.

Created by Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican from the House of Representatives, the proposal was presented last Wednesday. It will outlaw the filtering of search results or turning over information about users to certain governments unless the US Justice Department approves, according to CNET News.

The proposal named "Global Online Freedom Act of 2006" states that it is the policy of the U.S. to promote global free speech on the internet and global free flow of information. The Office of Global Internet Freedom (OGIF) will be established and commissioned to prepare an Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

The Act suggests prohibit the alteration or filtering of search results at the behest of governments and officials from an "internet restricting country." High transparency should be maintained as well, search engine companies would have to inform OGIF of all the "terms and parameters" or "block lists" provided to them by internet-restricting governments. In addition, all copies of data and content that the companies have removed, blocked or restricted from their services should be reported to OGIF.

The draft legislation comes in response to the recent debate over censorship in China by Google, Yahoo and others. Reports say the internet companies have agreed to help Chinese authorities by censoring Internet searches, which would jeopardize the rights of Chinese citizens to access information. Apart from politically sensitive search words such as "Human rights in china" in Chinese, "Rights defenders" in Chinese, "Chinese Communist Party" in Chinese, "Tiananmen Square", the list of censored words includes Christian "God" and "Christ".

Among 100 million internet users in China, many of them are Christians who depend on the internet for spiritual food, chairman of the U.S.-based Chinese Christian persecution watchdog China Aid Association Bob Fu said. The self-censorship of search engine will therefore have great impact on them.

Many criticized that as soon as these internet companies are independent business entities that provide services to internet users, it is unnecessary for them to compromise their business practices of corporations with political operations in the country. The problem does not only occur in the Communist China, but it also applies to other nations deemed to be overly "Internet-restricting" such as Iran, Vietnam, Belarus, Cuba, Libya, the Maldives and Myanmar.

The media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has not reviewed the 26-page measure. Lucie Morillon from Reporters without Borders said, "Our first reaction would be that hopefully this hearing and all this congressional and media attention is going to push the companies themselves at some point to regulate themselves," according to CNET News.