Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Criminal Penalties Coming For US Internet Companies That Don't Protect Human Rights Abroad

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 2, 2010

Excellent article at the Washington Post by Cecilia Kang about today's Senate Judiciary hearing "Global Internet Freedom and the Rule of Law."

Here are some of the key points from Post Tech - Google says no timetable to leave China; lawmakers tell firms to stand up to censors:

- Google still has no timetable on leaving China.

- Twitter and Facebook were invited to give evidence but refused.

- Twitter and Facebook have refused to join a two-year old Anti-Censorship coalition set up by Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.

- Senator Richard Durbin, the assistant majority leader, is planning legislation that will require US Internet companies to uphold human rights abroad.

"With a few notable exceptions, the tech industry seems unwilling to regulate itself," Durbin said. "I will introduce legislation that will require Internet companies to take reasonable steps to protect human rights, or face civil and criminal liability."

"In a statement, Facebook said it is still small, with few operations abroad."

Wow. Facebook said it is still small?!

On February 10, 2010, Facebook said it hit a milestone: 100 million users on Facebook Mobile. That's just for mobile. It has 400 million active users. 200 million users log in every day.

Facebook | Statistics

Facebook said:

"When we come to evaluate doing business in any country, we do so thoughtfully and are mindful of the rules, regulations, and customs," the company said. "As Facebook grows, we'll absolutely be considering which groups we can actively participate in."

As Facebook grows to 1 billion will it then consider doing something about human rights?

PC World reports: Senator to Introduce Internet Human Rights Bill

Durbin noted that Facebook had asked for the State Department's help when it was blocked in Vietnam. "If Facebook expects our government to help resolving efforts to censor its service, it only seems reasonable that they accept some responsibility themselves for addressing human rights issues," Durbin said.

UPDATED: Senate Leader Blasts Tech Industry, Plans Net Freedom Law — Datamation.com

Last month, Durbin sent letters of inquiry to 30 top IT firms asking about their policies concerning Internet censorship overseas and asking executives to appear at today's hearing, where the witnesses were sworn in and testified under oath. But the companies, which included Facebook and Twitter, declined the subcommittee's invitation to appear, Durbin said. A McAfee (NYSE: MFE) executive had been scheduled to testify, but declined shortly before the hearing. The lone representative from the tech sector was Nicole Wong, Google's vice president and deputy general counsel.

There might also be legislation that blocks US companies from selling equipment abroad that enables governments to censor and monitor individuals. This could affect a huge amount of sales. There is a lot of software and hardware that could be used for such purposes.

Interesting times ahead for US Internet companies. They are very reluctant to commit to upholding human rights abroad for all their talk of Internet freedoms.

Usually, industries try to self-regulate because they don't want governments regulating them with laws that will drive up their cost of business, or even limit their business. But in this case, upholding human rights abroad, the Internet companies can't bring themselves to any mutual agreement.

Now, this makes sense: Why Did Twitter Hire A Tech Policy Specialist As Comms Chief? - SVW


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