Google calls for global trade rules to limit Internet restrictions

Google calls for global trade rules to limit Internet restrictions

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[JURIST] Google [corporate website, JURIST news archive] on Monday urged the international community to ensure the free flow of online information [white paper text] by respecting global trade regulations and establishing new rules to protect against limitations on the Internet. Google estimates that up to 40 countries are incorporating surveillance tools into their Internet infrastructure, blocking online services and requiring licensing regimes that discriminate against foreign companies, all of which pose significant barriers to information flow and, therefore, global trade. In places like China, which enforces compliance with strict censorship laws before an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license will be issued, this means that Google must comply with censorship regulations or discontinue operations in the world’s largest Internet market. Instead, Google urges policy makers to develop an agenda that recognizes the barrier Internet restriction poses to international trade and to reform Internet policy in a way that is consistent with the World Trade Organization [official website] General Agreement on Trade in Services [text, PDF]:

Given the tremendous stakes involved, policymakers must develop and aggressively implement a proactive agenda that aligns Internet policy with the core principles of international trade. First, governments should not treat Internet policy and international trade as stand-alone silos, and recognize that many Internet censorship-related actions are unfair trade barriers. Second, governments should object to measures that affect information flow and that are insufficiently transparent, unreasonably administered, biased in favor of domestic players, or inconsistent with countries’ WTO market access commitments, and consider appropriate trade actions. Third, governments should negotiate new trade disciplines that reflect the growing role of Internet-related trade in the global economy, to provide even stronger tools to combat measures that restrict information flow and the Internet.

Google hopes that these issues will be brought forward at the Doha Development Agenda round of WTO negotiations [official website].

In July, a Chinese government official said that Google had agreed to follow Chinese censorship laws [JURIST report] to gain a license renewal that would still prevent users from accessing sites that threatened national security, while not requiring Google to censor its China or Hong Kong based websites. This agreement was reached [JURIST report] in June after a dispute concerning Google’s practice of redirecting mainland users to the Hong Kong-based website as a means of working around censorship laws. China responded by reiterating its commitment to open Internet [JURIST report], but stressing that international Internet companies must follow Chinese law. In February, China issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use [JURIST report] by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The new policies came amid negotiations with Google regarding the Internet company’s January threat to discontinue operations in China [JURIST report] due to the country’s overarching Internet censorship.