Clinton speech makes Internet freedom key priority

Secretary of State says decries "new information curtain" in speech.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday called on businesses to stand up to foreign governments that push them to censor access to information in those countries and pledged to make Internet freedom a key diplomatic priority. "On their own new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress but the United States does," she said during a speech at the Newseum in Washington. "We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal ascess to knowledge and ideas."

She noted that just as people around the world are using technology for social, economic and political progress, groups and authoritarian governments also have turned to the Internet and other tools to foster extremism and repression, noting the use of the Internet by al Qaeda to foster extremism and violence and stepped up censorship efforts by countries such as China, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. While warning of a "new information curtain," she also highlighted the ways people in countries with totalitarian regimes are using technology to "expose injustice," pointing to those Iranians who have managed to spread news via Twitter and cell phone images of Iran's crackdown on protesters.

Clinton said companies that stand up to censorship by foreign governments are not only claiming the moral high ground but also building trust with their customers that will help them in the marketplace. She briefly addressed the recent dispute involving Google and China, saying the department "looks to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review that led Google to make its announcement" and to release the results to the public. Google revealed earlier this month that it had been the victim of a cyber attack late last year originating from China that attempted to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, as well as corporate data. In response, Google announced it would no longer censor its search results for users in China and may leave the country altogether.

Clinton said the United States would discuss these issues with the Chinese "candidly and consistently." However, earlier in her remarks she said that countries or individuals that "engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation." Noting the progress the Internet has brought to China, Clinton said those countries that "restrict free access to information or violate basic rights, risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century."

She urged industry, academia and nongovernmental officials to provide input on technologies that can help promote the free flow of information, adding that the department would hold a "high-level" meeting next month on the issue. Clinton also said that the State Department also is providing funds to groups trying to ensure the free flow of information.

During a later panel discussion, State Department Director of Policy and Planning Ann-Marie Slaughter was asked whether the department would provide financial resources to those who are deploying technologies that can bypass the Internet blocking system set up by China to censor access to some information. She said the United States is providing such support but added it was unwise to publicly detail who is getting funding and what countries are affected. Some GOP House members recently urged the Obama administration to use funding that Congress appropriated in recent years for promoting Internet freedom to assist those groups working to bypass China's system.