Bipartisan Internet caucus launched

The caucus will promote unfettered Web access in countries notorious for online censorship, the lawmakers said.

At a press conference early Tuesday, Smith described that effort as crucial to stop the "concerted" attacks countries like Iran and China have launched recently to stifle political dissidents organizing on the Web.

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"Since 2006 it’s become very clear—and Google’s recent difficulties in China underline this—that IT companies are not powerful enough to stand up to a repressive governments," Smith told reporters. "Without US government support, they are inevitably forced to play a role in the repressive government’s censorship and surveillance."

So far, members include Smith, Wu, Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.), Frank WolfFrank WolfLobbying World Overnight Regulation: Supreme Court rejects GOP redistricting challenge Supreme Court rejects GOP challenge to Va. redistricting plan MORE (R-Va.), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

The congressman's spokesman also said Smith and Wu planned to "get a Dear Colleague letter out in about a week or two," in search of other members of Congress who wish to become one of the group's founding members.

Internet freedom has become something of a political hot topic recently, following a high-profile spat between Google and China, and a separate censorship struggle in Iran.

Google investigators believe a January breach on their Gmail server targeting human rights activists originated at two Chinese schools, one of which the company said has ties to the state's government.

China has since deflected those accusations, but Beijing's denial has hardly stopped Google from stipulating it will no longer censor its search results in China. However, the company has not announced when it would implement that new content policy.

Elsewhere, in Iran, Tehran officials have cracked down on bloggers and Twitter users who have relied extensively on social networks to spread word of anti-government protests.

Both incidents have piqued some congressional lawmakers, who question whether U.S. companies abiding by free expression rules domestically should censor their content abroad, in China or elsewhere.

A few members of Congress are now readying bills that would track, or in some cases sanction, Web companies that do businesses in foreign states with inadequate Internet freedoms.

Among that group is Rep. Smith, who launched their global Internet freedom bill earlier this month.

He repeated during Tuesday's press conference his support for that legislation, which would require businesses to report when foreign governments have asked them to censor content, and why.

"Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has told me and other members that she wants to see Internet freedom legislation on the floor of the House soon," Smith told reporters. "She has sent a strong message on this and I believe that the unified support of Google and the human rights community make clear that [the Global Online Freedoms Act] is the right bill."