The Senate Finance Committee is set to take up legislation Wednesday that includes language targeting Russian efforts to censor the Internet.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Finance International Trade Subcommittee, has included language in a bill to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations with the United that would require the U.S. Trade Representative to conduct an annual report to identify any actions Russia has taken to restrict access to U.S. digital goods and services, such as barring access to a U.S. website like YouTube.
The report called for in the trade bill would be released along with the USTR's annual Special 301 report assessing the efforts undertaken by foreign governments to protect U.S. intellectual property. That report has a "name and shame" aspect to it and often spurs countries to do more to protect intellectual property. Supporters of Wyden's language say they are hoping for the same result when it comes to Russia's treatment of U.S. digital goods and services.
Last week, the Russian parliament passed legislation that would require websites that promote child pornography, drug use or teen suicide to be placed on a blacklist and shut down. Some critics worry that the Russian legislation could be used to crack down on legitimate sites and not just those that promote objectionable material such as child pornography.
"It's very troubling what is going on in Russia with respect to efforts to suppress Internet access," Wyden told Tech Daily Dose Tuesday. "I think it's time to take a strong stand on this."
The Russian bill has prompted concern from other U.S. officials and industry groups including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who last week described the Russian legislation as "troubling and dangerous."
Some groups such as the Computer and Communications Industry Association have argued that efforts by foreign governments to censor the Internet should be treated as a trade barrier and not just a free speech issue.
"Internet services are leading U.S. exports and Internet filtering and censorship is a non-tariff trade barrier, which would violate [World Trade Organization] agreements," CCIA President Ed Black said in a statement last week.
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