President Obama and his deputy technology officer took on Internet censorship in all forms in Washington and Shanghai last week as they spoke about the importance of Internet freedom and openness and the dangers of censorship online – in any form.

During his visit to China last Monday Obama told Chinese students in Shanghai that he believes free speech and the lack of censorship of the Internet in the US is a source of strength. At a telecom law conference last Thursday, Andrew McLaughlin told those gathered that curbing censorship abroad and supporting net neutrality here is critical to free speech. The Computer & Communications Industry Association believes the President and his administration are right to proclaim the importance of an open, uncensored Internet and to resist efforts to allow countries or dominant companies to manage or censor the Internet.

McLaughlin correctly said the US has protected free speech more than many nations, and that it is equally important to ensure that companies providing access to the Internet don’t become gatekeepers over speech and information.

“If it bothers you that the China government does it, it should bother you when your cable company does it,” McLaughlin said, according to the Washington Post’s tech blog.

CCIA has a history of opposing government censorship whether it happens in China, Iran or anywhere else in the world and has long supported net neutrality to ensure that Internet Access Providers do not restrict the public’s access to all applications, services and content. Once you legitimize the use of censoring technology by government directly or by companies historically complicit in activities such as improper wiretapping, the freedom and privacy of Internet users is gravely threatened.

China responded to the encouragement toward openness by censoring Obama’s remarks online. AT&T’s top lobbyist responded with a press release this week asking McLaughlin to censor his own comments.

The following comments can be attributed to Ed Black, CCIA President & CEO:

“It’s no surprise that AT&T and China had a similar response to the call for freedom and openness on the Internet. Restricting access to content, information and speech, whether for government censorship purposes or to protect excessive revenue streams, is an affront to all those who value free speech.

“The juxtaposition of these free speech issues – Internet censorship and net neutrality — pulls away the layer of confusion about net neutrality that opponents have hidden behind for years. Unrestricted, the Internet may be mankind’s greatest tool ever to promote individual freedom. We ought to do everything we can to protect that possibility – and if we aren’t careful it can become a tool to censor, surveil and manage captive audiences.

“What probably further concerns AT&T about linking net neutrality to Internet censorship is it hits too close to home. There is a real danger IAPs will use the scarcity of connectivity options and long-term contracts locking in customers as a means of control to favor one speaker or competitor over another on the Internet.

“It is possible for IAPs to reasonably manage network traffic without interfering with free speech. That should be a carefully circumscribed role that those who support democracy and free speech can accept as part of any robust net neutrality protections.

“The administration’s insightful and accurate views triggered a response from AT&T. The response by an historic monopoly attacking others as threats to competition was so over the top we’re glad it was made. Such excessive claims reminds one of Shakespeare’s ‘me thinks they doth protect too much [sic].’”

“CCIA is encouraged that this administration with truly tech savvy people on board along with those who understand and respect the Constitution, will find ways through the minefields of powerful special interests to make universal access to an open Internet a fundamental American free speech protection.”

 

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