Washington — An open, secure Internet that is accessible to all is crucial to peace and economic prosperity, says Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We are convinced that an open Internet fosters long-term peace, progress and prosperity,” Clinton said in a speech delivered February 15 at George Washington University in Washington. An Internet that can be blocked and censored, she said, “can cut off opportunities for peace and progress and discourage innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Efforts by repressive governments to wall off segments of the Internet are doomed to failure, Clinton said. With 2 billion people now online, not only will people find ways to get around such obstacles, but stifling free expression on the Internet hampers economic innovation and opens the door for greater corruption.
Likening the Internet to a modern-day town square where people can mingle and share ideas, Clinton said the challenge facing the world today is how to balance transparency and free speech with security and confidentiality. Clinton acknowledged that the Internet is as easily used by extremists and all sorts of criminals as it is by human rights activists, journalists and legitimate businesses. “The Internet isn’t good or bad,” the secretary said. “What matters is what people who go online do there, and what principles should guide us as we come together in cyberspace.”
“Our allegiance to the rule of law does not dissipate in cyberspace,” she said. “Neither does our commitment to protecting civil liberties and human rights.”
The freedoms of expression, assembly and association online comprise “the freedom to connect,” the secretary said. “The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same.”
“There is a debate currently under way in some circles about whether the Internet is a force for liberation or repression,” Clinton said. “But I think that debate is largely beside the point.” The much-publicized use of the Internet and social media in recent protests by citizens in Egypt and Iran did not cause public unrest, the secretary said.
“In each case, people protested because of deep frustrations with the political and economic conditions of their lives,” she said. “In both of these countries, the ways that citizens and the authorities used the Internet reflected the power of connection technologies on the one hand as an accelerant of political, social and economic change, and on the other hand as a means to stifle or extinguish that change.”
“The Internet must work evenly and reliably for it to have value,” Clinton said. Therefore, the United States supports “the multi-stakeholder system that governs the Internet today, which has consistently kept it up and running through all manner of interruptions across networks, borders and regions.”
The United States, she said, has found strong partners in preserving an open Internet among several governments worldwide and is encouraged by the Global Network Initiative, which brings together companies, academics and nongovernmental organizations to handle issues like government censorship and the use of technologies in ways that may violate human rights.
The United States supports the use of the Internet by civil society via its “2.0 Initiative,” which connects nongovernmental organizations and advocates with technology and training that supports their work. “The United States continues to help people in oppressive Internet environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online,” Clinton said.
“As we look ahead, let us remember that Internet freedom isn’t about any one particular activity online,” Clinton said. “It’s about ensuring that the Internet remains a space where activities of all kinds can take place, from grand, groundbreaking, historic campaigns to the small, ordinary acts that people engage in every day. “
The struggle for Internet freedom, she said, is a struggle for human rights, human freedom and human dignity.