Access Now calls on U.S. Congress to look at companies’ decision on domain fronting

Access Now today called on leaders in U.S. Congress to urge Google and Amazon to reverse a recent decision to block use of U.S government-funded anti-censorship tools that enable hundreds of millions of people in authoritarian countries to evade state firewalls.

As explained in the letter, Amazon and Google have disabled a technique known as “domain fronting,” which works by routing online communication through the infrastructure of a major technology company in order to obscure the actual destination that would otherwise be blocked. This enables people using censorship circumvention apps to more effectively evade firewalls and surveillance that are widely used in authoritarian countries. The U.S. government through the U.S. Department of State, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and the Open Technology Fund helped to incubate and support domain fronting over the course of the last six years.

See a PDF of the full letter here.

In blocking domain fronting, these companies are capitulating to repressive foreign governments and prioritizing their own commercial interests over democracy, human rights, and access to independent news,” said Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now. “These same companies have thrived due to the freedoms afforded to them in the United States and should be held to account for denying those same freedoms to the most repressed societies around the globe.”

Google and Amazon have long known about domain fronting, and previously ignored complaints, and even threats, from foreign governments. Moreover, major public and private international media organizations rely upon these U.S. government-supported technologies and domain fronting to reach audiences in repressive countries who do not have access to a free press.

From religious minorities to political dissidents, people living in closed societies depend on the internet as the last remaining platform to raise their voices, grow their communities, and find sympathetic ears,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel of Access Now. “In particular, faith-based groups suffering repression have benefited for years from the U.S. government’s promotion of internet freedom as a foreign policy priority, and use domain fronting tools as religious censorship goes high-tech. These moves by Google and Amazon demonstrate we must redouble efforts to show the private sector why their role in extending human rights like religious freedom and political dissent still matters, and their support remains crucial.

Access Now is calling for help from Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Thune (R-SD), and Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ed Royce (R-CA), Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Greg Walden (R-OR). These members of Congress are the chairpersons or the ranking members on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, the House and Senate commerce committees, and the Congressional -Executive Committee on China.