Bill would set ground rules for firms doing business in China

But civil liberties groups and technology companies have been cautious about that kind of legislation because it is considered to be "using companies as a wing of U.S. foreign relations policy," said Danny O'Brien, international outreach director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an interview. "But on the other hand, having the back-up and support for a strong human rights agenda from other executives makes companies more comfortable to do the right thing."

"The biggest focus on this from the Hill will surround cybersecurity," O'Brien said. "The real tipping point for Google was attacks on its infrastructure."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he's drafting cybersecurity legislation and that the U.S. should "confront this ever growing problem aggressively and with all available means."

The Global Online Freedom Act was referred to the House Foreign Affairs and House Energy and Commerce Committees.