Lawmakers introduce legislation to combat global censorship, boost internet freedom


A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation intended to expand global internet freedom and cut down on social media and news censorship by governments in countries such as China and Russia. 

The Open Technology Fund Authorization Act would authorize the existing nonprofit Open Technology Fund (OTF) as an independent group under the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which also includes media groups such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

The OTF currently works to provide funding for small tech groups to create ways to counter censorship efforts, including helping to fund efforts to create encryption for WhatsApp. 

The new legislation would require that the OTF research, develop and maintain technologies meant to promote internet freedom through getting around government censorship efforts along with creating tools to allow people around the world to access websites that governments have otherwise censored. 

The bill is sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and Reps. John Curtis (R-Utah) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). 

Engel said in a statement that the legislation would bolster the free press around the world. 

“Our international broadcasting efforts provide unbiased news and information in countries where there is no free press,” Engel said. “The growth of the internet has given us powerful new tools to reach bigger audiences. Our broadcasters tell the truth, which is why so many governments try to silence them along with other independent sources of news.”

Engel added that the OTF “is working on ways around government censorship and restriction of the internet. If a repressive regime builds a wall, the OTF is working to build an even taller ladder.”

McCaul said in a separate statement that “information blocking has long been a hallmark of oppression,” pointing to practices by “oppressive regimes” such as China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. 

“The U.S. Agency for Global Media has already made significant headway to improve internet freedom globally, and by authorizing the OTF as an independent grantee, this bill will better position the U.S. to help those fighting against this form of tyranny,” McCaul said. 

A spokesperson for McCaul told The Hill that there is no Senate companion bill at the moment.

Tags Eliot Engel Michael McCaul Tom Malinowski

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