Dr. Thomas Marx Award 2009/2010

Dr. Thomas Marx Award 2009/2010


Jeannette Tam, Robertsons Law Firm 

WINNER: Jeannette Tam

Firm: Robertsons Law Firm, Hong Kong


The Internet has been conceptualized as a forum for free expression with almost boundless
opportunities for people to exchange ideas and freely access the expression of others. Internet
policy attempts to concentrate the world’s diverse views on expression in cyber-space.
Principles of free speech differ from country to country, and nowhere is the difference more
apparent than between the U.S. and China.

The U.S. Global Online Freedom Act 2009 (“GOFA”) is a bill introduced in 2006 to prohibit
U.S. Internet service providers (“ISP”) from cooperating with “Internet Restricting
Countries” by censoring information available from their search engines in compliance with
the countries’ local laws and regulations. Among the listed “Internet Restricting Countries” is
China, which possesses one of the most sophisticated Internet filtering and regulatory
regimes in the world. The GOFA was a product of a U.S. House of Representatives hearing
held on 15 February 2006 which slated the actions of Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and
Google for adhering to the Chinese government’s requests to censor the Internet and locate
“cyber dissidents”. The GOFA failed to be ratified in 2006 and 2008, but in light of recent
events, especially with the potential withdrawal of Google from the Chinese market in
response to cyber attacks, interests in the GOFA have revived.

Although the GOFA is U.S. legislation, the enactment of the GOFA will have substantial
global repercussions. Owing to the history of the development of the Internet, much of the
organizations (such as ICANN) and companies (as stated above) running the Internet are
American. Enacting legislation that prohibits these major technology businesses from
investing in China will inevitably affect the worldwide technology market.

This paper explores the history of Internet regulation and censorship in the U.S., China and
on the surface, France, as well as the UN approach to Internet governance and current
movements towards an international regulatory scheme. The prominence and purpose of the
Internet Governance Forum will be discussed, and the effects of the GOFA will be further
explored. The paper concludes by determining that the GOFA is too blunt and local-centric a
tool to be imposed on to the international Internet; global Internet regulation, and any
discussions regarding control of the Internet, should be kept on an international level.


The United States’ Global Online Freedom Act 2009 Is it the Appropriate Approach to Prohibiting Global Internet Censorship?