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Internet Freedom a Global Issue

1/23/2010 2:00 AM Eastern


The following is an excerpt from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Jan. 21 speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Now, in many respects, information has never been so free. There are more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in history. And even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable. …

The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China and it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century. Now, the United States and China have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship.

Now, ultimately, this issue isn't just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It's about whether we live on a planet with one Internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.

Information freedom supports the peace and security that provides a foundation for global progress. Historically, asymmetrical access to information is one of the leading causes of interstate conflict. When we face serious disputes or dangerous incidents, it's critical that people on both sides of the problem have access to the same set of facts and opinions.

As it stands, Americans can consider information presented by foreign governments. We do not block your attempts to communicate with the people in the United States. But citizens in societies that practice censorship lack exposure to outside views. In North Korea, for example, the government has tried to completely isolate its citizens from outside opinions. This lopsided access to information increases both the likelihood of conflict and the probability that small disagreements could escalate. …

For companies, this issue is about more than claiming the moral high ground. It really comes down to the trust between firms and their customers. Consumers everywhere want to have confidence that the Internet companies they rely on will provide comprehensive search results and act as responsible stewards of their own personal information. Firms that earn that confidence of those countries and basically provide that kind of service will prosper in the global marketplace. I really believe that those who lose that confidence of their customers will eventually lose customers. No matter where you live, people want to believe that what they put into the Internet is not going to be used against them.

And censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere. And in America, American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand. I'm confident that consumers worldwide will reward companies that follow those principles.

Now, we are reinvigorating the Global Internet Freedom Task Force as a forum for addressing threats to Internet freedom around the world and 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. And when their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what's right, not simply what's a quick profit. …

Now, pursuing the freedoms I've talked about today is, I believe, the right thing to do. But I also believe it's the smart thing to do. By advancing this agenda, we align our principles, our economic goals and our strategic priorities. … Given the magnitude of the challenges we're facing, we need people around the world to pool their knowledge and creativity to help rebuild the global economy, to protect our environment, to defeat violent extremism, and build a future in which every human being can live up to and realize his or her God-given potential.

So let me close by asking you to remember the little girl who was pulled from the rubble on Monday in Port-au-Prince. She's alive, she was reunited with her family, she will have the chance to grow up because these networks took a voice that was buried and spread it to the world. No nation, no group, no individual should stay buried in the rubble of oppression. We cannot stand by while people are separated from the human family by walls of censorship. And we cannot be silent about these issues simply because we cannot hear the cries.

 

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