February 15, 2011
Congress Should Work To Preserve Free Speech On The Internet, Says ACLU
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WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives will hold two hearings this week regarding “net neutrality” principles, with the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet hearing testimony today and the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing testimony Wednesday. Net neutrality principles protect free speech online by prohibiting the owner of a network from prioritizing some content on the Internet while slowing other content. The American Civil Liberties Union supports legislation that upholds these principles.
“Net neutrality protections are absolutely essential to preserving free speech on the Internet,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We urge Congress to ensure that all online content is equally accessible for users and that the Internet remains a place where the exchange of ideas remains open and unencumbered by those who wish to control the flow of data.”
Most Americans access online content through large telecommunications companies with the expectation that those companies transfer data without analyzing or manipulating it. However, new technologies have made it possible for those companies to scrutinize data, control how quickly that data is sent or received and even block content. Net neutrality principles would apply “common carrier” rules to the Internet that would prohibit the owner of a network from interfering with the flow of information by halting, slowing or tampering with the transfer of information, except for the purposes of easing congestion or blocking unwanted spam.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken steps to protect openness on the Internet. Wednesday’s hearing will include a discussion on the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review federal regulations and, if deemed necessary, overrule any previous regulation. The Congressional Review Act could be used to allow Congress to effectively eliminate the FCC’s authority to protect net neutrality. If its regulatory power is revoked through the Congressional Review Act, the FCC would no longer be able to enforce net neutrality principles and its regulatory power could only be restored by an act of Congress. The ACLU opposes using the Congressional Review Act to diminish the FCC’s regulatory power.
“As the Internet becomes an increasingly vital part of American life, it's essential that our free speech rights are protected both online as well as offline,” said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Freedom of expression means little if the forums for that expression don’t remain open, and strong net neutrality protections are the way to make sure that First Amendment principles of free speech remain intact on the Internet.”