Secretary Clinton Addresses Internet Freedom

This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on the importance of freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet. The speech coincidentally follows last week’s announcement by Google that it and 30 other companies and organizations were hacked by what it claims must have been the Chinese government. Google threatened to close its China operations unless China abandons the censorship requirements it has placed on the company’s China division.

Secretary Clinton spoke about the tremendous advantages that the Internet has provided to countries around the world, reiterating President Obama’s statement that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become.” She said that “access to information allows citizens to hold their governments more accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity and entrepreneurship.”

She voiced concern that the Internet is being exploited by some governments to undermine human progress and political rights. She named China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan as countries that are censoring the Internet for their citizens. She also criticized Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, and North Korea, for censorship and in some cases for imprisoning bloggers.

Secretary Clinton stated that the U.S. stands for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. She referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights citing that all people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media. She also compared Internet censorship in some countries to the iron curtain of the cold war era, referring to the practice as an “information curtain” where virtual walls are placed on the Internet. She asked the world’s population and governments to consider the kind of future we want. A world with one Internet, where cultures freely share information, or a fragmented globe where access to information is dependant on where you live. The Secretary pointed out that asymmetrical access to information leads to misunderstanding and international disputes.

The Secretary gave many examples of the benefits of a connected world, and the dangers of the Internet being abused to promote violence, and hate speech. She acknowledged the challenge of balancing anonymous Internet use with accountability for illegal online activities, but said that these issues must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights of citizens.

Secretary Clinton addressed the issue of state-sponsored Internet attacks saying that countries and states that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation. Regarding the recent Google attack, she called on Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusion and to announce its findings in a transparent way. She acknowledged the difference of opinion between the US and China regarding Internet freedom, and said that the US will address those differences “in a candid and consistent manner in the context of our positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.”

The Secretary declared that the US government is committed to helping promote Internet freedom. She said that the US government is helping to create new tools that can assist people in circumventing politically motivated censorship. She announced a new program to partner with non-governmental agencies to apply what she refers to as “connection technologies” to aid in meeting the countries diplomatic goals.

Also in her speech Secretary Clinton touched on the responsibility of Internet firms to respect their user’s privacy and exercise ethical behavior when working with foreign governments. She said that not only is it the right thing to do but its also the smart thing to do.

She called on the world powers to utilize Internet connections to pool resources to help the global economy, improve the environment, defeat terrorists, and help people realize their potential. We cannot stand by while people are separated from the rest of humanity by walls of censorship, she said. We cannot be silent about these issues simply because we cannot hear the cries.

China reacted to Secretary Clinton’s speech by lambasting the U.S. for “attacking other cultures by trying to impose its own values.” The Chinese government has warned that the US attitude of “information Imperialism” will damage US-China relations.

Google says that it is still in the process of investigating the impact of the cyber-attack. Its investigation includes members of its Chinese work force. Google has postponed its launch of two Android phones in China, and plans to hold talks with the Chinese government in coming weeks.

Meanwhile Europe’s primary security and human rights watchdog has accused Turkey of blocking some 3700 Web sites for what it claims are arbitrary and political reasons.

You can listen to or read the Secretary’s speech at blogs.state.gov.

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