Google: Make Internet openness a free trade condition

Google is urging federal lawmakers to make global Internet freedom a key feature of the country's free-trade agenda.

As states like China continue to cut off citizens' access to the Web, Google Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong told a Senate hearing it was crucial that U.S. leaders include Internet openness rules in their new trade agreements, primarily to enable global free expression.

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But she also touted those rules as crucial for international commerce, as Web censorship in a handful of countries has "serious economic implications" that ultimately hurt "businesses in every sector," she said.

She thus urged lawmakers in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Human Rights and the Law subcommittee to make Internet openness a "major plank" of the country's foreign policy.

"Opaque censorship restrictions can also be very damaging to the 'host nation,' because they undermine the rule of law and make it very hard for foreign companies to navigate within the law, which has negative consequences in terms of foreign direct investment," according to Wong's prepared testimony.

"We should continue to look for effective ways to address unfair foreign trade barriers in the online world: to use trade agreements, trade tools and trade diplomacy to promote the free flow of information on the Internet," she added.

U.S. trade negotiators have already incorporated some elements of Wong's request into their trade strategy. As she pointed out during her remarks, the Obama administration has sought Internet freedom provisions in its recent free-trade agreement with South Korea -- a condition Google has long applauded.

But Internet freedom is hardly a permanent tenant of U.S. free-trade strategy.

Daniel Weitzner, a top administrator in the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), told lawmakers earlier in the hearing he was unable to make such a blanket trade commitment.

However, he did later describe that approach as "certainly appropriate," now that Internet freedom has become a pressing political issue.