Monday, June 9, 2008

Global Online Freedom Act would be far from perfect in dealing with "Internet-restricting" countries

The Washington Post today (Monday June 9) ran a sensible editorial on Internet censorship by undemocratic or authoritarian regimes (including China, and much of the Islamic world). The editorial is called “Servers that snitch: what can be done to preserve freedom on the Internet?” and the link is here.

One of the problems is that companies may get a pseudo “competitive advantage” by circumventing overseas censorship when other companies don’t, and the new proposed Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 (H.R. 275), for which I summarize the references here. The Post correctly points out that the State Department would develop the list of “Internet-restricting countries” administratively, and would face tricky quasi-political questions such as Germany’s strict controls on material that even “looks like” advocacy of neo-Nazism.

The question is, of course, is a country like China better off with American companies serving them and acquiescing to Chinese control of dissent and speech that would not be acceptable in this country. As a pragmatic matter, perhaps they are. Yet, how often in our own lives do we say no to things because they violate our own principles? Global companies don’t always have the luxury of ethical purity or “ethical fundamentalism.”

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