Computer & Communications Industry Association President & CEO Ed Black is scheduled to testify Thursday at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing, “International Trade in the Digital Economy.” The issue of Internet censorship and filtering has received more attention from the State Department and USTR during the Obama administration.
Black has been an advocate on international free speech and censorship issues for decades and continues to serve on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communication and Information Policy.
Black will tell the committee that CCIA members report 40 countries engage in broad, widespread Internet censorship. Whether this is to block information for political reasons or to protect domestic firms from competition, the net impact is that US companies are facing barriers to foreign markets.
Black says information discrimination represents a classic “non-tariff trade barrier” and recommends U.S. officials enforce existing laws and ensure new international agreements better protect the digital economy by clearly banning Internet filtering, censorship and secondary liability.
In his testimony, Black will offer details on which countries are creating barriers along with examples of nations enacting policies that keep US firms from doing business and favor incumbent domestic tech companies. The examples range from intentionally redirecting Internet traffic from foreign sites to domestic sites, to using filtering technology that causes foreign-based services to be degraded for domestic users. There is also a ripple effect beyond tech companies to the advertisers, who are the direct revenue source for many Internet services.
The following quotes can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black’s testimony:
“The free expression and free flow of ideas is a necessary condition for successful governance under democratic principles. Attempts to control the citizenry’s access to information must be relegated to the dustbin of history. Government restrictions on content and services are more worthy of “1984” than 2010.
“When governments treat foreign firms differently, they are erecting to market entry that would not otherwise exist, creating advantages for domestic firms and disadvantages for foreign competitors. Such advantages range from intentionally redirecting Internet traffic from foreign sites to domestic sites, to using filtering technology that causes foreign-based services to be degraded for domestic users. These practices also affect advertisers, who are the direct revenue source for many Internet services.
“Restrictions on access to information will reduce demand for computing devices and consumer communications devices, markets in which U.S. businesses have strong positions and strong brands. Information discrimination thus impairs many industries at the heart of the U.S. information technology sector.
“Unreasonable liability rules in other countries are effectively acting as market barriers. Since the early days of the Internet, Congress has recognized that holding Internet and e-commerce businesses liable for the wrongful conduct of their users would jeopardize the growth of this vital industry and place unreasonable burdens on these companies. We next to export language like the safe harbors provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright act as well as another provision in the Communications Decency Act that that allows Internet companies to combat undesirable or illegal content without fear of liability.
“We must also discourage attempts to deputize online intermediaries into law enforcement. If the United States cannot maintain a free and open Internet, we cannot expect that any other nation will do so. Proposals to require Internet communication services to build in back doors for government eavesdropping would create vulnerabilities in secure communications systems, making it easier for governments across the globe to further tamp down on the free flow of information, censor content, and block disfavored services.”