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US House committee approves personal online data protection bill

[JURIST] The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website] voted Tuesday in favor of the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 [HR 275 materials], a bill aimed at preventing US Internet companies from turning over users' personal information to governments that would use the data to quash dissent. The bill would create a right for individuals to sue companies that disclose information to foreign regimes and also mandate that Internet service providers report restrictions imposed on them by foreign nations. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill's sponsor, said Tuesday that the legislation will strengthen US efforts to ensure online freedom [press release]. The bill must still be approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website] before it can go before the full House.

The bill was introduced as a reaction to allegations that Yahoo! Inc. [corporate website] had handed over information to China that led to the arrest and sentencing of writer Li Zhi. The House Foreign Affairs committee last week summoned [JURIST report] Yahoo! chief executive Jerry Yang to testify before a hearing next month regarding allegations that the Internet giant gave false information to Congress about its role in human rights violations committed by the Chinese government. In April, the World Organization for Human Rights USA [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Yahoo! on behalf of an incarcerated Chinese activist, alleging that the company aided and abetted human rights violations by providing Chinese officials with information, including e-mail records and user ID numbers, that helped them to identify pro-democracy activists. Reuters has more.

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