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NEW LEGISLATION WOULD PROTECT SOURCES AND INTERNET FREEDOM

Two new pieces of legislation in the United States would help protect reporters' sources and promote Internet freedom.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on 16 October that would bolster reporters' ability to keep their sources confidential in federal court cases. PEN American Center said it was elated by the overwhelming (398 to 21) House vote, calling the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 (FFIA) "an essential clarification" of journalists' right to protect sources.

A week later, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) hailed the House Foreign Affairs Committee's approval of the Global Online Freedom Act, which would prevent U.S. Internet companies from collaborating with repressive governments.

"With more and more reporters facing prosecution for protecting the identities of confidential sources, the United States has been teetering on the brink of joining PEN's list of countries that routinely jail journalists," PEN said.

The bill would extend shield protections already in effect in 33 of the 50 states to the federal level. Under the law, reporters could be forced to testify in criminal cases or disclose source information in court only in cases of specific national security threats or when the information is necessary to a case and cannot be obtained otherwise.

The American Civil Liberties Union said FFIA would lessen the chances of reporters being arrested or intimidated for their reporting, particularly when using government sources. However, it warned that the House bill added unnecessary national security exceptions and gives the government discretion as to who qualifies for protection.

President George W. Bush has stated he would veto FFIA, but the voting margin among Representatives was enough to override a veto. PEN American Center said it hopes an expanded version of the Senate bill will come to a final vote this year.

The other bill, the Global Online Freedom Act, would ban U.S. companies from locating servers containing personal data in territories controlled by repressive governments. The bill, which would also protect users' anonymity from unauthorised disclosure, will now go to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

U.S. companies Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft have been criticised for agreeing to censor themselves in China, while Cisco Systems is accused of providing China with online censorship technology. At least four cyber-dissidents, including Wang Xianing and Shi Tao, have been convicted and jailed because of information supplied by Yahoo!, said RSF.

Visit these links:
- PEN American Center: http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/1646/prmID/172
- ACLU: http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/32216prs20071017.html
- Commentary: http://tinyurl.com/2ruug8
(23 Oct. 2007)

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