Congress and the U.S. administration should act to prevent dictators from using U.S. technology for surveillance, tracking and repression of human rights and pro-democracy leaders, said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing today.
Smith is the author of the Global Online Freedom Act of 2013 (GOFA) H.R. 491 that addresses this fundamental threat to democracy activists in repressive countries by ensuring greater corporate accountability and greater scrutiny of exports of sensitive U.S. technologies. Smith, who chairs the House global human rights subcommittee, asked officials at the Departments of State, Commerce and Defense to take a close look at GOFA to prevent U.S. technology from being abused by regimes in repressing their people. (Read Smith’s subsequent letters to the U.S. Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.)
“On February 15, 2006 I chaired a hearing in this room, the first in a series, on gross violations of global online freedom, especially in China, and on the selling and harmful transfer of weapons of mass surveillance to dictatorships and secret police—that systematically employ torture—and repressive militaries,” Smith said. “Representatives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Cisco testified, and it was further revealed at that hearing that Cisco had greatly enhanced the command and control capabilities of the secret police in China, enabling them to hunt down human rights activists, religious believers and democratic activists as well.
“This export control law is long overdue, and thoroughly consistent with the approach Congress has taken, for example, in restricting exports of certain crime control equipment to China. It makes no sense for us to allow U.S. companies to sell technologies of repression to dictators, and then turn around and have to spend millions of dollars to develop and deploy circumvention tools and other technologies to help protect dissidents from the very technologies that U.S. companies exported to their persecutors.” (Click here to read Smith’s statement)
Rep. Smith, a senior member of Congress, is also the Co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He is a leading voice on human rights issues and the author of a number of landmark human rights bills, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.