Senate global Web freedom caucus launching Wednesday

Sens. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kans.) plan to unveil their new bipartisan Global Internet Freedom Caucus on Wednesday.

Joining the two lawmakers at an event at the Capitol tomorrow will be five other founding members: Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the group announced late Monday.

"The creation of the caucus formalizes the efforts of this bipartisan group of senators who have been working together for more than a year to advocate for global freedom of expression," the lawmakers noted in a release announcing Wednesday's event.

The Senate effort arrives weeks after House members launched their own Internet freedom caucus, led by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and David Wu (D-Ore.). As of earlier this month, that bipartisan bloc had about five members, according to Smith's office.

Both new caucuses arrive as lawmakers are growing increasingly vocal about worldwide Internet freedoms. Many members believe U.S. Web companies that adhere to free expression rules domestically should abide by those same guarantees when operating abroad, even in states that restrict Internet access and censor online content.

The participants in the Senate's newest caucus in particular have proffered those arguments routinely when discussing Internet freedoms in China, a country known for its strict censorship rules.

A dispute between Google and China stemming from a January cyberattack has the search company ready to cease censoring content -- a move that could altogether end Google's search business there. But that standoff aside, countless lawmakers have long questioned why Google even agreed to do business in a state that limits Web access -- content restrictions that Google executives themselves have described as obstacles to trade.

Lawmakers participating in the Senate's new caucus will discuss that standoff on Wednesday, when they formally debut the bloc at an event on Capitol Hill.

However, a few of its inaugural members have already signaled coming action on the Internet freedom front. Among them is Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip, who suggested legislation at a hearing in February that would penalize companies that adhere to other countries' Web restrictions.

"The bottom line is this: With a few notable exceptions, the tech industry seems unwilling to regulate itself and unwilling to engage in a dialogue with Congress on ... human rights challenges..." Durbin said, stressing the need for tough legislation on the Internet freedom front.

(UPDATE - March 23, 10:51 a.m.: The post originally said the event was Tuesday. It is in fact scheduled for Wednesday.)