Google Public Policy Blog: Promoting free expression on the internet

Google Public Policy Blog: Promoting free expression on the internet: “Promoting free expression on the internet

Tuesday, May 20, 2008, Posted by Pablo Chavez, Senior Policy Counsel

Google’s commitment to freedom of expression is at the core of everything we do — whether it’s independent media organizations using YouTube to express themselves in Venezuela, or citizen journalists using Blogger to chronicle Myanmar’s crackdown last year on Buddhist monk protests. Unfortunately, many governments around the world impose limits on their citizens’ freedom of speech, and that often leads them to block or limit access to our tools and services.

This is one of the largest challenges we face as a company, and today our Deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong will testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law about how Google promotes free expression and responds to these challenges.

In her testimony, Nicole will talk about our efforts to be transparent with users, such as our use of the Chilling Effects website to highlight legal requests to remove content and our clear notification to users whenever search results have been censored. For the last 18 months, we have joined together with other companies, human rights groups, and academics to develop a set of principles to guide how companies respond to to these challenges, and we are hopeful that we will reach an agreement. We have also collaborated with human rights organizations to give exposure to human rights issues — including by partnering with the U.S. Holocaust Museum to map genocides in Google Earth.

We believe that these efforts will help promote free expression on the internet. But we also believe that governments can take a stronger role in protecting human rights online, and today we will call on the U.S. government to do more. Specifically:

* Include censorship in trade negotiations. We believe that government-sponsored censorship is one of the largest barriers to making information more available online, and so it is vital for the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to make censorship a central element of our bilateral and multilateral trade talks.

* Strengthen the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. More can be done to ensure that the ICCR — developed more than 30 years ago — truly protects free expression online. The U.S. should renew diplomatic efforts to encourage more countries to ratify the agreement; countries that belong to the covenant should submit regular compliance reports; and aid should be provided to help individuals filing complaints under the Covenant.

* Enhance the State Department’s Global Internet Freedom Task Force and appoint an at-large ambassador. The task force has accomplished a lot so far, but should receive additional prominence, authority and funding. For example, the State Department could appoint an Ambassador-At-Large for Internet Freedom to serve as a diplomatic advocate for these issues.

* Promote free expression as part of foreign aid. Government can do more to tie U.S. aid programs to countries’ implementation of their ICCR obligations. We have already urged the Millennium Challenge Corporation to incorporate Internet censorship in measuring whether candidate countries have achieved criteria for democratic governance.

While Google and other companies have a big part to play in promoting free expression, much more can be done by the U.S. and at the international level to ensure that individuals have the freedom to express themselves online.”