Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Address on Internet Freedom

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major address at the Newseum in Washington DC on January 21. She spoke in favor of uncensored access to the Internet and elaborated on the position the U.S. has taken regarding Internet freedom.

Here's an edited version of the speech giving some high points in about 4 minutes.

The full text of the speech is provided at state.gov. The entire hour is available on video there.

Secretary Clinton's speech clarified some long held positions of the Obama administration, but it was made relevant and diplomatically significant because of the recent dust-up between Google and China. Google Isn't Evil After All? Search Giant Threatens to Leave China tells the basics of the Google/China story as it was breaking. China's response to Google since then has been a snub to both Google and the U.S. government with a position that we aren't the boss of them and they'll do as they please with their own laws.

Secretary Clinton mentioned that the "State Department is already working in more than 40 countries" in support of Internet freedom. Even so, it seemed to me that much of what Secretary Clinton said took aim directly at China.

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world's networks. They've expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on 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." With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day.

If you're like me and didn't know what samizdat meant, Wikipedia can help.

We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely. The United States has been assisting in these efforts for some time, with a focus on implementing these programs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom.

The liberal, pro-Clinton, blog The Confluence hailed the speech, saying Hillary Clinton Channels FDR in Internet Freedom Speech. This article also brought the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate donations into the discussion with,

Democrats who fear yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling on corporate campaign donations should get crackin’. The internet provides a wealth of low cost or free methods of spreading the word, like blogtalkradio, blogging, facebook. Some candidates have made use of these tools but online media is still in its infancy and has the potential to reach a lot of people who might otherwise get their information from TV.

A report at Communication and Technology Studies Group by a person in attendance at the speech offered a concise summary,

In her talk she identified several basic rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and freedom to connect with others (a digital update of assembly), that should be afforded to all people, and observed that fostering and sustaining free, secure, and reliable networks around the world is a priority for this administration.

Nora von Ingersleben from ACT online attended the speech. Her focus is small business. She asked Secretary Clinton

. . . what the State Department would do to help a U.S. tech company with a subsidiary in China whose employees are being taken to jail and whose equipment is being hauled away because the company refuses to give information about its users to the Chinese government.

Secretary Clinton responded that the government “obviously speaks out” on those individual cases. Additionally, the State Department is hoping to engage in a very candid and constructive conversation with the Chinese Government. The Secretary said that U.S. officials have had a positive year of very open discussions with their Chinese counterparts which has led to a foundation of understanding between the two countries. She added that the two countries disagree on important issues – that notwithstanding, the US wants to encourage and support increasing openness in China because this will further add to the dynamic growth and the democratization on the local level that is already occurring in China

Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First responded to the speech on The Huffington Post, saying it "marked a major turning point for promoting freedom of expression." Shellee from Censorshell noted the bipartisan support for the principles of Internet freedom.

In many ways China is surpassing the United States in technological development. Its economy has been less damaged by the recent recession than most. The question is, can a country that is banking on economic and technological growth manage to take a leading role in the world in a society that won't allow the exploration of all ideas openly?

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Virginia DeBolt
BlogHer Contributing Editor|Web Teacher|First 50 Words

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