Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced a bill Friday that she says would help prevent authoritarian governments in Russia and China from restricting “Internet freedom.”
“Leading censors like China and Russia are not only employing more sophisticated means to control the lives of their citizens online; they are also exporting their censorship and surveillance tactics to illiberal regimes abroad,” Blackburn said in a press release.
She said authoritarian regimes have leveraged “COVID-19 response schemes against their own people” by “restricting the ability of individuals to distribute or publish information related to the virus, imposing criminal penalties for defying speech restrictions, and limiting access to information.”
That’s why she has introduced the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act with Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to counteracting “repressive censorship and surveillance, enabling Internet users to exercise their fundamental human rights online.”
Under the bill, the OTF would be established as an independent grantee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, receiving $55 million in appropriations over the next two fiscal years. The organization would be required to “develop, maintain, and deliver technologies to circumvent authoritarian governments’ efforts to restrict Internet freedom.”
Menendez said the OTF provides people around the world with the tools they need to “promote human rights, the free flow of information, and hold their governments accountable and to ensure the Internet remains a free, stable, and secure arena.”
“We’ve seen nations like Communist China actively censor its own citizens – including those who attempted to warn the globe about the threat of the coronavirus. Communist China is violating human rights and oppressing the people of Hong Kong in an effort to silence its critics and pursue global dominance,” said Sen. Scott. “The U.S. cannot sit idly by while regimes across the world deny the basic right of free speech.”
According to the OTF, more than two billion people across the globe use its technologies to circumvent online censorship, including Chinese citizens who use OTF’s technologies to bypass the Chinese Communist Party’s Great Firewall.
“Keeping the internet free from government censorship and oppressive government surveillance is critical to free expression and political freedom around the world,” said Sen. Wyden. “This bill will aid the fight against authoritarian governments online.”
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