SEATTLE, Washington — In response to the continued suppression of internet freedom, including access to social media and online news sources by authoritarian regimes, a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a bill to expand global internet freedom. The Open Technology Fund Authorization Act would direct the nonprofit Open Technology Fund (OTF). OTF currently funds the creation of “ways to counter censorship” efforts by small tech groups. It develops technologies to skirt government censorship and enables people to access websites that their governments have blocked.
The Importance of Global Internet Freedom
As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. noted that the internet is a powerful tool to spread unbiased information to increasingly bigger audiences in countries without free press. This information could threaten the governments of these countries, which is why the internet is censored. The internet can be a key tool in the fight against tyranny.
According to House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the internet age has ushered in a new era of tyrannical governments exercising control over their citizens. Surveillance and censorship of the internet have become a “growing trend in repressive regimes like China, Iran and North Korea.” As a result, the U.S. Agency for Global Media has sought to expand internet freedom globally. By supporting projects that promote free communication on the internet and that counteract government censorship, censored countries can achieve internet freedom.
The Open Technology Fund Authorization Act
The bill confirms the need for the protection of internet freedom. Currently, more than two-thirds of people around the world live in countries where the internet is restricted. Authoritarian regimes spend billions of dollars every year on internet censorship and surveillance. Furthermore, the Chinese government not only restricts its own people’s access to the internet but it also exports technologies used for surveillance and censorship.
The purpose of the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act is to combat internet censorship and expand internet freedom globally. To do so, the Act would amend the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 by adding Sec. 309A Open Technology Fund. This new section would make yearly grants available for the purpose of supporting “unrestricted access to uncensored sources of information via the internet.” This would empower journalists to produce and spread the news and allow their audiences to receive such information.
This act would establish the Open Technology Fund (OTF), “a grantee entity… which shall carry out the provisions of this section.” The mission of the OTF will be to promote freedom of the press and unrestricted internet access overseas. To sum up the goal of the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act, Representative Engel explained, “If a repressive regime builds a wall [around the internet], the OTF is working to build an even taller ladder.”
Status of the Bill
Rep. Michael McCaul [R-TX-10] introduced the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 24, 2020. “The bill has six cosponsors (3R, 3D).” The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is currently in the first stage of the legislative process.
Limiting and blocking access to the internet is a tactic of authoritarian regimes. According to Rep. McCaul, “Knowledge is power, which is why information blocking has long been a hallmark of oppression.” Oppressive governments censor the internet in order to maintain their grip on power. The Open Technology Fund Authorization Act would thus empower and enable people around the world to utilize the internet to further their own welfare and human rights.
– Sarah Frazer