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International Internet Controls Seen As Trade Barriers

by Ulrika Lomas, LawAndTax-News.com, Brussels

23 November 2010


The President and Chief Executive Officer of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Ed Black, in his testimony at a United States’ Senate subcommittee hearing on “International Trade in the Digital Economy”, has said that widespread international internet censorship constructs barriers to US companies in foreign markets.

The CCIA disclosed that the issue of internet censorship and filtering has received more attention from the State Department and United States Trade Representative during President Obama's administration. Black, himself, has long been an advocate on international free speech and censorship issues, and serves on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communication and Information Policy.

CCIA members report 40 countries engage in broad, widespread internet censorship. Whether this is to block information “for political reasons or to protect domestic firms from competition”, Black said that the net impact is that information discrimination represents a classic ‘non-tariff trade barrier’, and he recommended that US officials enforce existing laws and ensure that new international agreements better protect the digital economy by clearly banning internet filtering and censorship.

“Globally,” he stated, “we must work to highlight and reduce internet censorship through enforcing existing trade rules and taking appropriate action when those rules are broken. We must also promote internet freedom via future trade agreements. Finally, we must lead the world by example, and establish domestic policies that protect internet freedom as well.”

Black offered details of how countries, such as China, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Vietnam, are creating barriers and policies that keep US firms from doing business and favour incumbent domestic technology companies. “When governments treat foreign firms differently,” he said, “they are erecting barriers to market entry that would not otherwise exist, creating advantages for domestic firms and disadvantages for foreign competitors.”

“Such advantages,” he continued, “range from intentionally redirecting internet traffic from foreign sites to domestic sites, to using filtering technology that causes foreign-based services to be degraded for domestic users. These practices also affect advertisers, who are the direct revenue source for many internet services.”

Black added that “restrictions on access to information will reduce demand for computing devices and consumer communications devices, markets in which US businesses have strong positions and strong brands. Information discrimination thus impairs many industries at the heart of the US information technology sector.”

In addition, in his opinion, “unreasonable liability rules in other countries are effectively acting as market barriers. Since the early days of the internet, the US Congress has recognized that holding internet and e-commerce businesses liable for the wrongful conduct of their users would jeopardize the growth of this vital industry and place unreasonable burdens on these companies.”

Black pointed out that: “The federal government can assist US businesses in gaining greater access to international markets by taking concrete steps to ensure that the rules that govern the next generation of trade agreements reflect the new challenges posed by online government censorship and disruption of the internet. The US should negotiate new rules in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that advance the unrestricted flow of information over the internet and increase transparency. We must continue promoting signed trade agreements, such as the US-South Korea agreement, but we must also modernize our agreements so that they promote the free flow of information.”

TAGS: commerce | law | tariffs | trade treaty | agreements | internet | e-commerce | United States | trade

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