Technology companies that fail to make reasonable steps to safeguard human rights in foreign countries could face civil or criminal liabilities, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on human rights and the law, raised questions on whether software made by US companies were used by foreign governments to suppress Internet freedom.
Durbin said that with few exceptions, most of the technology industry has been unwilling to cooperate with Congress on human rights challenges.
But Congress has a responsibility to ensure that American companies are not complicit in violating the freedom of expression, Durbin said at a hearing on focused on promoting global Internet freedom.
Many of those companies, including the world's largest search engine, Google, and its competitors Yahoo and Microsoft, have willingly censored its search results in countries like China.
The hearing comes after Google said in January that it was attacked by hackers allegedly from China, and it was considering to not censor its search results in the country as a result.
China and Google have been engaged in negotiation since the incident, but neither have commented on the developments.
The move also highlights US policy makers becoming more vocal against censorship abroad.
In January US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extoled a single Internet, calling on Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam to remove electronic barriers between its citizens and the Internet.
The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly in cyberspace, she said, speaking in Washington.
It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate in the name of progress.