Global Online Freedom Act Approved By House Subcommittee

The House of Representative's Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee approved the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) last week. GOFA would require the State Department to identify countries that censor Internet content and restrict online accress in its annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices. The proposal would also prevent American firms from selling software to countries that censor their netizens. The bill is sponsored by the subcommittee's chairman Chris Smith, a Republican representing New Jersey, and it will now move to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Hill blog reported that the proposal had been sent to the House in previous years but this year may finally prove successful in its passing. The bill was first developed as a response to Yahoo's relinquishment of the account information of Chinese dissident Wang Xiaoning to Chinese authorities. In 2008, OpenNet Initiative principal investigator Jonathan Zittrain mentioned that a section of the bill would cause "more harm than good," requiring American companies to displaced important servers in restrictive countries, including China, and discontinue "low-latency" services. Furthermore, the criminal provisions that would have slapped firms with criminal charges should they fail to report certain information to the Justice Department concerned legislators in years past. The latest version, instead of iterating penalties as punishment, focuses more on corporate social responsibility.

The values sustained by GOFA are also being extended to an international level by other politicians. Last week, House Representatives Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) introduced a resolution that would encourage the United States representative to the United Nations to oppose any plan developing into international regulation of the Internet.