congressional bill that would impose strict new obligations on American tech
companies doing business with "Internet-restricting countries" like China has
cleared its first hurdle to becoming law.
The Global Online Freedom Act, introduced in February by Rep. Christopher Smith,
passed by a unanimous voice vote in the U.S. House of Representatives
subcommittee that focuses on Africa, global human rights and international
Smith proposed the bill just days after a daylong congressional hearing at which
politicians lashed out at representatives from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and
Cisco Systems for compliance with China's state-sponsored censorship regime:The
growth of the Internet and other information technologies can be a force for
democratic change if the information is not subject to political censorship,
The concerns among politicians flared up after reports that, under pressure from
the Chinese government, Microsoft had deleted a journalist's blog, Yahoo had
turned over information leading to the conviction of at least one Chinese
journalist, and Google was offering a restricted search service there.
The approved bill attempts to target those practices directly. Under its list of
"minimum corporate standards," American businesses would be barred from keeping
any electronic communication, such as e-mail, that contains personally
identifiable information on servers or other storage facilities in
"Internet-restricting countries." The rules would also prohibit them from
turning over personal information about their subscribers to governments in
those locales except for "legitimate law enforcement purposes."
All search engine providers would be required to give the U.S. State
Department's Office of Global Internet Freedom a detailed breakdown of how their
search results have been restricted or censored in such countries. All Web
content hosts would have to supply a list of URLs that have been removed or
Internet service providers could also face fines of up to $2 million per offense
and imprisonment for blocking access to any U.S. government-sponsored Web site
or content, such as Voice of America, in the blacklisted countries.
Although China has taken center stage, the bill says the rules would also apply
to dealings with Belarus, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Tunisia and
Vietnam--along with any other country on which the U.S. government decides to
bestow an "Internet-restricting" designation.
Phone Companies Censor Private Communications
Based on an article from the
Now playing on your Web-enabled cell phone: a PG-rated version of the
Internet. As people increasingly listen to music, watch TV, and access
the Web on their handsets, they notice significant content restrictions
that don't exist on PCs.
Major U.S. wireless carriers have set censorial guidelines for their
content partners, restricting or banning potentially offensive language,
ringtones, games, and videos--including, in some cases words, such as
lesbian or pictures of women in swimsuits. In informal tests of text and
multimedia messaging, we found that messages containing adult images and
vulgar language did not always show up on the intended recipient's
Why the restrictions? Wireless carriers want to ward off nutter
complaints--and regulation by the Federal Communications Commission,
according to Julie Ask, an analyst with Jupiter Research.
Are cell phones next on the feds' censorship wish list? You'd better
believe it, said Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the Progress &
Freedom Foundation .
CTIA , the wireless industry trade group, has proposed wireless content
guidelines that encourage network operators to label, filter, and limit
access to words, images, and even sounds that some adults may consider
inappropriate for children. But wireless carriers are imposing
restrictions even stricter than the rules that the FCC imposes on
broadcast TV and radio.
In content available through its handsets, Verizon Wireless prohibits
the use of obscene language as well as images or videos that depict
"passionate kissing." The carrier has specific rules for how much bare
skin models may show and for what titles of digital files people can
Anything you can access through your Verizon Wireless phone is
appropriate for the entire family, says Verizon Wireless
spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson.
Cingular Safe content guidelines, meanwhile, ban such words as words
condom and lesbian along with images depicting or insinuating nudity
or partial nudity. The guidelines, which Cingular distributes to its
content-provider partners, cite theSports Illustratedswimsuit issue as
an example of inappropriate material.
T-Mobile says that its standards for wireless content are on a par with
those governing the covers of mainstream magazines displayed on
Are carriers also censoring messages that one user sends to another? We
sent a slew of R- and NC-17-rated text and images to handsets, using a
variety of carriers, and found that some messages sent over Cingular and
U.S. Cellular's networks did not reach their destination, or were
changed in transit. Spokespersons for these carriers say that they don't
censor text or multimedia messages.
However, messages do travel across numerous other network components
outside U.S. Cellular, some of which may filter messages based on
content, says Jonathan Guerin, U.S. Cellular spokesperson.
Cingular did not respond to our requests for an explanation of why
images with mature-themed file names were replaced by a red X when they
reached Cingular handsets.