Congress Must Act to Keep the Internet Free from Censorship

March 11, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU calls for legislation with teeth

March 11, 2008

Washington, DC – Testifying today before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on net neutrality, the director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, Caroline Fredrickson, urged Congress to act to safeguard free speech on the Internet. “Congress should act to protect the rights of all Internet users to send and receive lawful content free of censorship from government or business,” Fredrickson said. “Restoring meaningful rules that protect Internet users from corporate censorship is vital to the future of free speech on the Internet.”

Fredrickson explained that the ACLU wants rules that keep channels of communications open and free from discrimination. “We do not want to regulate the Internet – we just want to ensure that nondiscrimination rules continue to apply to the ISPs that provide Internet access,” she said. Fredrickson added that the committee should consider legislation that will provide meaningful remedies for violations.

The ACLU is urging Congress to re-establish rules that treat Internet providers the same way they had been from the time the Internet was created until the Supreme Court’s Brand X decision in 2005. Prior to Brand X, ISPs providing Internet access had to abide by the same nondiscrimination rules that apply to telephone companies. Brand X held, however, that the Federal Communications Commission could continue to regulate broadband ISPs, but as “information services” not automatically subject to neutrality rules. However, the FCC has failed to act.

Fredrickson noted that the 2007 censorship of NARAL Pro-Choice America highlights why ISPs should not be allowed to discriminate. Verizon Wireless claimed that it was free to block text messaging that it disapproved of because neutrality rules that apply to voice transmissions do not apply to data transmissions. By its own words and actions, Verizon Wireless has made the case for why neutrality rules must be restored to apply to all broadband ISPs.

Fredrickson noted that ISPs have free speech rights but those rights do not give them an additional right to censor the speech of people using their services to access the Internet.

Fredrickson said, “Without these protections, the Internet will be transformed from a shining oasis of free speech to a desert of discrimination that only serves to promote commercial messages of the network providers.”

To read the full text of Caroline Fredrickson’s testimony visit:

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