A man poses for a photo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing on January 16.
21 January 2010 Internet Freedom Essential to Human Rights, Economic Prosperity, January 21, 2010
(Secretary Clinton defines U.S. policy on upholding Internet freedom)
By Jane Morse
Washington — Internet freedom is essential to upholding human rights and encouraging economic prosperity, and the United States plans to aggressively promote Internet access for all peoples, says Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” Clinton said in a groundbreaking foreign policy speech delivered January 21 at Washington’s Newseum.
She linked the freedom to use the Internet without government obstruction to basic human rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Having the freedom to connect to the Internet, she said, “is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace.”
Clinton compared the efforts of some governments to deny their citizens unfettered Internet access to the construction of the Berlin Wall. “Virtual walls are cropping up in place of visible walls,” she said.
“Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks,” Clinton said. “They have expunged words, names and phrases from search-engine results.
“They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in nonviolent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
While praising the “brave citizen journalists” in Iran who have used cell-phone video to tell the world about brutal repression in their country, Clinton also noted that “free expression has its limits.”
“We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are at this moment using the Internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation is reprehensible,” the secretary said.
The Internet, Clinton said, is a valuable tool in promoting social justice. She gave the example of an unemployed engineer in Colombia who used the Internet to bring together more than 12 million people in 190 cities around the world to demonstrate against the FARC terrorist movement. In Mexico, a private citizen using e-mail was able to mobilize some 150,000 people to demonstrate against drug-related violence. And in India, a 13-year-old boy using online social networks was able to organize blood drives for the victims of terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Thanks to affordable technology, there are some 4 billion cell phones being used around the world, even in the poorest sectors of society, Clinton said. “Information networks have become a great leveler,” Clinton said, “and we should use them together to lift people out of poverty and give them freedom from want.”
The secretary noted that when President Obama visited China in November 2009, he publicly defended the right of people to freely access information and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become.
“He spoke about how access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable, generates new ideas, encourages creativity and entrepreneurship,” she said.
When asked about efforts by the Chinese government to censor and control American technology companies operating inside its borders, Clinton said the Obama administration is engaged in “very candid and constructive conversation with the Chinese government.” She added: “We have had a positive year of very open discussions with our Chinese counterparts.”
The Obama administration, Clinton said, is reinvigorating the Global Internet Freedom Task Force as a forum for addressing threats to Internet freedom around the world.
“We are urging U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance. The private sector has a shared responsibility to help safeguard free expression,” she said. “And when their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what’s right, not simply what’s a quick profit.”
The Obama administration, she said, is “encouraged” by the work currently being done by the Global Network Initiative, which is a voluntary effort by technology companies — along with nongovernmental organizations, academic experts and social-investment funds — to respond to government requests for censorship. She announced that as a part of the U.S. government commitment to support responsible private-sector engagement on information freedom, the State Department will hold a high-level meeting next month to bring together firms that provide network services for talks about Internet freedom.