House Committee Approves Global Online Freedom Act

from the will-it-do-anything? dept

An updated version of a bill that’s been floating around for a few years — the Global Online Freedom Act — has passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, and some people think that it might actually get somewhere (I’m still a bit skeptical). The point of the bill is to try to stop US companies from supplying tools of online censorship and oppression to repressive regimes. The version that passed out of committee took out some controversial earlier provisions that had potential criminal penalties for those who failed to report information to the Justice Department. It also included some new safe harbors for companies that join the Global Network Initiative. GNI — set up, in part, by Techdirt book club participant Rebecca MacKinnon — is an attempt to get companies and organizations to work together on a set of rules and principles to protect free expression around the globe.

While it is a bit disappointing that companies might need a law to avoid providing tools to censor free speech in these regimes, I am still amazed that US politicians can push for bills that seek to increase free speech abroad, while at the same time considering bills that would limit free speech at home. Either way, this bill is still a long way from actually becoming a law (there isn’t even a Senate version yet). However, given the very reasonable interest in free speech issues around here, and the fact that the bill has received little coverage, I figured some more folks would be interested to know about it. CDT has raised some concerns about how you determine just what is “censorship” technology, as that’s often in the eye of the beholder, but it appears that the backers of the bill actually are responsive on this issue and want to hear from the tech community.

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Comments on “House Committee Approves Global Online Freedom Act”

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22 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

A fundamental underpinning of the speech and press provisions of the First Amendment is to preserve what might otherwise be called “political speech” from abridgement by the federal government (and more recently state governments when the 14th Amendment was interpreted to reach certain state actions).

Hence, it is not at all surprising that the encouragement of political speech outside the US is a policy pursuit, as has been repeatedly noted by, for example, the Department of State.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am still amazed that US politicians can push for bills that seek to increase free speech abroad, while at the same time considering bills that would limit free speech at home.

This is what happens when you don’t understand the difference between free speech and freeloading. You make stupid statements like this. Being stopped from streaming Avatar viewed a bit differently than calling for free and open elections. The former is more important to Techdirtbag Nation, the latter more important for those living under oppression.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Aww you tried… here is your ribbon.
No one is stopping Avatar from being streamed.

They are however seizing the belongings of people they disagree with at the border looking for information to help in court cases. They do this using tools meant to stop terrorists, not citizens with dissenting viewpoints.
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120329/11143218297/court-suggests-politically-motivated-border-searches-may-be-unconstitutional.shtml

We have “Free Speech” zones, so no politician has to hear the people who were dumb enough to elect them complain.
We have them trying to pass laws restricting our ability to communicate without them listening in.
Hell they tried to pass a law to make it illegal for me to call you a fuckwit.

If your going to shill here, try harder.
Fuckwit.

abc gum says:

Re: Re:

“you don’t understand the difference between free speech and freeloading”

Apparently this is a trait shared amongst many in governments and corporations, but is most easily recognized in shillmaniacs. It is easy to understand the motivations of the first two, however, it is difficult to comprehend brainwashed rambling.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I believe what you are trying to say, converted to legal lingo, is that political speech has always enjoyed a higher status under US law than commercial speech because it was the former that was the motivation behind the speech and press provisions of the First Amendment.

Those who conflate the two by treating them as full equivalents misunderstand their respective status under the First Amendment.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Being stopped from streaming Avatar viewed a bit differently than calling for free and open elections.

Again, it just needs to be pointed out that when those of us against copyright abuse talk about impinging free speech, we’re not talking about being able to download avatar. We’re talking about the impingement on all legal free speech, including political speech.

hegemon13 says:

Frankly, this bill is laughable. A tool is a tool. Isn’t that the repeated mantra about file lockers, torrent sites, etc, around here? I happen to agree with that mantra, but the cognitive dissonance at Techdirt has been on full display lately. Tools for censorship should not be illegal. It’s software. That’s it. And other nations have the sovereign right to run their countries how they see fit, whether we like it or not. Criminalizing the creation or sale of software by private companies, while the government continues to fund brutal rebellions, prop up oppressive dictators, start unneeded wars, carry out civilian assassinations without due process, spy on Americans with or without a warrant, take down sites with no recourse, imprison Americans with no due process, and generally expand oppression and regulation at every possible turn is the height of hypocrisy. Just another disgusting example of our government saying, “What’s okay for us is illegal for you.”

And some people still believe we live in a free country.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Tools for censorship should not be illegal. It’s software. That’s it.

I agree 100%, on a number of levels, from a basic rights level all the way up to a technical one (many tools with noncontroversial uses can also be used for censorship).

However, I also think it’s right & proper to shame and shun those who specifically develop and/or market software for the purpose of enabling censorship.

This is an instance where social “law” (mores) should be in full force, not governmental law.

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