- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

A new congressional bill to prevent Internet jamming the practice by some countries of restricting access to the Internet could run into technological and jurisdictional problems, industry specialists said.
The Global Internet Freedom Act would lay out a "robust global Internet freedom policy" to counter Internet blocking by "repressive regimes," according to the text of the House bill, and establish an Office of Global Freedom within the International Broadcasting Bureau.
The bill was introduced in nearly identical versions by Republican Rep. Christopher Cox and Democrat Tom Lantos, both of California, in the House on Oct. 2, and by Sens. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, in the Senate on Oct. 10.
But the U.S. government might not have the authority to enforce such a policy, some specialists said.
The proposed legislation poses "some really difficult legal questions," said Christopher Wolf, a partner at the law firm Proskauer Rose and president of the nonprofit group Hands Off the Internet. "My general view is that countries should be able to enforce their domestic laws domestically," said Mr. Wolf.
The bill could lead to a "very slippery slope," he said.
The feasibility of such legislation is also questionable. "The technology is constantly evolving with the Web, so whatever changes the U.S. makes, it will have to be prepared to keep on making," said Anthony Lupo, a partner at the law firm Arent Fox in Washington.
"Clearly, creative people on each side will be hacking and trying to get around the system," he said. "The U.S. is going to have to keep committed to doing this."
Saudi Arabia is one of the countries singled out in the introductory text of the bill, which said the oil-rich kingdom, and other countries such as China and North Korea, take "active measures to keep their citizens from freely accessing the Internet."
Saudi officials say their Internet restrictions target only "un-Islamic" sites. Blocking such sites works to "encourage people to be on the Internet, for kids to feel safe," said Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy.
"If, for legitimate reasons, people need to go to certain sites, then they can get exemptions," he said.
Mr. Al-Jubeir said the proposed U.S. legislation treads on cultural taboos, as well. Saudi thresholds for considering some Web sites pornographic "tend to be much lower than what you have here" in the United States, he said.
Moreover, the Saudi spokesman noted, the bill is culturally arrogant. "Each society has its own standards. Ours are different from everybody's."
Despite Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Al-Jubeir said that he "never had any problem in Saudi Arabia getting on Web sites. I never had a single Web site blocked."
Others in both the public and private sectors defend the bill.
"It's no different from what we've done in the past with respect to the Voice of America [broadcasts] and Radio Free Europe," said one congressional source. He noted that the bill explicitly states that it not be used to interfere with "legitimate law-enforcement aims."
However, he conceded that the bill does not define what "legitimate" means in connection with the laws of other countries. "Legitimate is according to how the U.S. views legitimate," he said. "It is a discretionary term."
Furthermore, the bill signals a continuing commitment to the issue, another congressional aide said. "In creating an office, it is our assumption that this is not just a question of a one-year program, but that we want to have some institutional capability. I think this area will be an ongoing battle."
This source said also said the bill is not meant to infringe on cultural values but to fight "state-sponsored, political-type censorship. That's what the office would be focused on." But he acknowledged that the office's goals could be "slippery," because the bill defines the office broadly and leaves much to be decided later.
Technologically, while moving against Internet jamming could be "a bit of an arms race, going on all the time," it's not a futile fight, said Lance Cottrell, president of Anonymizer. His company works with Voice of America in China to allow people in that country to visit blocked sites such as the popular search engine Google.
"We're always monitoring all the network hardware to make sure it's all up and functioning," said Mr. Cottrell. But, because the company has been able to automate many of the tasks involved, the time required is not much more than what's needed to run a large Internet business, he went on.
"We've never had any problems keeping ahead" of the Chinese authorities, Mr. Cottrell said. "We're always coming out with new twists on our technology to counter them."


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