Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has introduced new legislation aimed at promoting internet freedom, in particular to counter internet censorship imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The bill, named the Free the Internet around the Globe to Hack Tyranny and Censorship Act (FIGHT Censorship Act), would establish a clear U.S. policy on internet freedom. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, would be required to communicate this U.S. policy around the world.
“An international internet freedom policy will go hand-in-hand with our efforts to promote democracy and human rights around the world,” said Gardner in a Sept. 15 press release from his office.
He added: “And it will continue to hold bad actors like the Chinese Communist Party accountable for censorship and violations of basic human freedoms.”
China’s firewall blocks its citizens from accessing many international websites and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, while it maintains a censorship apparatus to monitor internet content and delete anything authorities disapprove of.
If the bill is enacted, the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, who is also the head of NIFA, would need to communicate the U.S. internet policy during meetings at international organizations, according to the bill.
In addition, the Secretary of Commerce would need to establish an Internet Freedom Task Force, comprising members from the NTIA, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the International Trade Administration.
The task force would then need to submit a report on the state of global internet freedom to Congress in less than 180 days after the bill is passed. In the four years afterward, the task force would be required to submit annually a similar report to Congress.
According to the bill, the Secretary of State would need to annually designate countries that “do not provide sufficient internet freedom to their residents,” such as “unfavorable domestic laws that restrict the free flow of information.”
Moreover, the state secretary would administer a grant program in the amount of $25 million to promote internet freedom policies worldwide, such as promoting anti-censorship technology.
In China, for example, netizens need to use a VPN, or virtual private network, to bypass the Great Firewall and access websites and content censored by the Chinese regime.
Finally, the state secretary would administer a new fund called “Stop the CCP Initiative Fund” in the amount of $20 million. According to the bill, the fund would be used to support developing technologies, including anti-censorship tech and secure communications tech, to counter China’s internet censorship and promote human rights and freedoms on the internet.
U.S.-based rights group Freedom House, in its latest annual report on internet freedom, called China “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom” for the fourth year in a row.
“Censorship reached unprecedented extremes as the government enhanced its information controls in advance of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and in the face of widespread anti-government protests in Hong Kong,” Freedom House stated.
In Hong Kong, the pro-democracy movement began in June last year, when millions took to the street in protest against the now fully-scrapped extradition bill. The movement has since evolved in calls for greater democracy, such as universal suffrage.
The Hong Kong protests are a taboo subject in mainland China. Most recently, activist Xu Kun was put on trial on Aug. 16, according to Radio Free Asia, after he was found to have retweeted about 1,000 tweets in support of Hong Kong protests. He was accused of “slandering China’s political system and the Chinese Communist Party, insulting Chinese leaders, and distorting major domestic news events.”
Beijing also famously covered up the CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, when it silenced eight doctors, among them ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, for posting on Chinese social media about a new form of pneumonia in late December.