The U.S. International Trade Commission has been asked by the Senate Finance Committee to conduct an investigation into “foreign digital censorship.” The first part of this investigation (No. 332-585) is entitled Foreign Censorship Part 1: Policies and Practices Affecting U.S. Businesses, and will yield a report from the ITC to be published by the end of 2021.
In our comments to this investigation, CDT describes four key trends in how governments around the world exert control over online speech and information flows:
- Requirements of private companies to make determinations about the legality of speech;
- Requirements or government pressure on intermediaries to implement automated content filtering;
- Government officials’ manipulation of private content moderation processes; and
- Mandates to locate data and personnel in-country to increase the government’s leverage over a private company.
CDT notes that while some forms of digital censorship are direct and overt, such as China’s continuing “Great Firewall” project, the suppression of expression and information, through methods contrary to the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights, is being enacted or contemplated by many countries around the world today.
We urge the Commission to adopt a broad understanding of the methods of digital censorship; to recognize the particular focus of governments around the world (including the U.S. and its allies) on online intermediaries as points of control for digital expression; and to promote human rights, transparency, and accountability for both governments and companies in U.S. trade policy.