U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bureau of International Information Programs
CO.NX Panel Discussion on Internet Freedom
Larry Diamond, Senior fellow, Hoover Institution
David Nassar, Executive Director, Alliance of Youth Movements
Natalia Morari, Founder, ThinkMoldova
Rebecca MacKinnon, Fellow, Open Society Institute
Clay Shirky, Professor, New York University
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director, Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State, moderator
Date: January 21, 2010
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: So I’m going ask our panelists to introduce themselves. We have people here who have been on the front lines of some of the political movements, the civil society activism, the business networking. The new paradigm of leadership is the interconnected connection, made possible by technology. And I am going to start a conversation by asking people on the panel to talk about some of those facts and, again, to give us a sense of the ways, very concretely, in which the world, in which all the things we do in politics, economics, activism, in human rights have changed. And then, as I said, we’ll take questions from the floor. But, David, let me start with you.
[David Nassar]: David Nassar, I teach at the interactive telecommunications program at NYU, and I wrote a book called Here Comes Everybody about social networking.
[Rebecca MacKinnon]: Rebecca MacKinnon, I’m co-founder of a global citizen media network called Global Voices Online. I’m also a fellow with the Open Society Institute about the Internet where I particularly specialize both as a journalist and academic in studying the Chinese Internet and censorship.
[Larry Diamond]: I’m Larry Diamond, the director of the Center of Democracy and Rule of Law at Stanford University. We have a program of liberation technology there that is very excited about this speech.
[Natalia Morari]: I’m Natalia Morari, I’m a journalist from Moldova and (inaudible).
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: So at the end of her speech, Secretary Clinton made a very powerful appeal that no one in the world should be under the rubble of oppression. She talked about an information curtain. She talked about the consequences of denying the freedom to connect. I thought we might start by asking Clay, Larry and Natalia to talk about the actual events on the ground in Iran and in Moldova in which they both have seen or been connected to those who are fighting oppression, fighting to get their message out in a situation where there is a censorship of deliberate efforts to block that communication. Natalia, let me start with you.
[Natalia Morari]: Well, what’s remarkable about the Iranian situation right now, which we didn’t even know last year, is that just a relatively loosely organized group of citizens have been able to launch these protests through sustained character. It is eight months after the June 12 election and the state still has no method for reliably either stopping these protests from happening, stopping people from documenting it, or stopping freely distributing that documentation globally. Just last week, the security services said essentially ‘Okay, if you keep this up, no more Mr. Nice guy.’ Which given the reactions they’ve already had suggests that they don’t really have “Plan B.” Right? That they have a certain amount of ability to shut down communications networks but all they’ve got left is more of the same. Now both of those characteristics can still add up to a terrifically negative outcome, as we know from Tiananmen, but the big change here isn’t just that it’s being used for a relatively loosely organized uprising, which we’ve seen in many places around the world, it’s that it’s held together for the better part of a year and looks set to hold together for the short-term foreseeable future. And I think what’s so important about the second is we’re no longer just watching to see if these situations unfold, we’re actually going to take a policy bias about them in which the kind of tools that are in the hands of these people. It’s been not only the Twitter revolution but the cell phone revolution. That’s the technology that’s transformed both the coordination and documentation in Tehran. It’s amazing to hear the Secretary of State. We are taking a pro-freedom bias in those situations.
[Clay Shirky]: It’s interesting the notion of the sustained connection because historically there’s been a lot of psychological research on the power of knowing that others are with you. That you are not alone. That you are actually with a company of people who are fighting for the same thing you do. One of the things censorship does is precisely to make you feel isolated and that, of course, crushes the desire to even do the courageous thing. So this ability to remain connected has a huge psychological impact. And Natalia, it’s not quite the Twitter revolution but you were part of a revolution that was certainly fueled by Twitter and I thought you could offer your own….
[Natalia Morari]: Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe and it’s the only country in Europe which has had communists in power for the last 80 years. We’ve never been (inaudible) before so nobody knew that we really do have problems with freedom of speech, freedom of oppression, economic freedom and other kinds of problems. Nobody discusses that. And we had an election and communists won again.
These elections were falsified. Before the newscast everybody...it was absolutely a fact [the outcome]…so the situation before it was (inaudible)….some Internet media showed the real situation. And all the national broadcasting was controlled by communists, by the government. That’s why the most part of it [Moldova citizens] has never had access to information and they didn’t even know what has happened in the country.
So the next morning on April 6, 2009, a group...a small group of people, young people, got together in a small cafe and we decided to make a report just to show that there are young people who really consider (inaudible)….and because our rights and freedom of expression. We didn’t have access to radio station or television, we didn’t have this access. The only things which we had were Facebook and some other site very popular in this region. We had e-mails and, of course, tweeting. And we put a small short message. ‘If you are young and you didn’t vote for the communists, just come today at 6:00 p.m., bring a candle and light it as a symbol of national mourning.’ We expected to see no more than 600 people. In the central of Moldova it was already in use. We were always considered not a very (inaudible) society. So in a couple of hours [of] social network[ing], up to 15,000 young people came in the street. Everyone in the capital was wondering what is that? (inaudible) up to 35,000 people. And the evidence of the government [influence] of social networking which helped people to mobilize is that the next day all the social networking sites were blocked. It was impossible to reach your Facebook account from any place. But people who have research, have access to mobile phones called their Twitter account and they were Twittering from the streets during the protests and I was explaining to people what happened to Moldova. And the thing about Moldova is that only 200 people who have Twitter accounts made Moldova topic number one on Twitter. This house, the world around us, international media like CNN, found out about this small country Moldova where something was happening. (inaudible) I really believed that something would change. And finally as a result of this process which we’re watching, social networks, we had repeated elections and we have already opposition in power, they won and (inaudible) came in power, the government and probably the majority really believed that a big change which this young generation had a year ago would happen. (inaudible).
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: So your story highlights a couple dimensions of the connection technologies and networks. On the one hand, you shut down one today and there’s immediately another. So you all were able to use Twitter to get around the blocking of the Facebook and the cell phone technology you originally used. And this is the power of the horizon network. The flipside, though, is it’s much harder to use. So it’s very interesting in your account, you know, there was...that simple fact that it couldn’t be shut down and as long as there was a very clear target, wanting to demonstrate we did not vote for the communists, they sort of self-sustained. But what happened after that when you then have to take power and you have to direct reform? It’s much harder, I think, (inaudible) size leadership and I wanted to ask…David: Through your experiment with youth movements and how leaders have emerged through these technologies, how do they claim legitimacy and continue to lead after that initial protest is...has waned.
[David Nassar]: Well, I think what’s interesting is that what both Clay and Natalia spoke to is people’s ability to use the Internet to create their own credibility. Or in the past if a protest happened and nobody covered it, then, you know that kind of thing. And Natalia made the point herself, she said that the fact that it was on Twitter led the “New York Times” and CNN and others to find out about what was happening. So using these tools, people have their own broadcast network to be able to reach hundreds of thousands, millions of people and the attention creates their own credibility for what’s happening. So I think how I would answer your question is to say that once they transform from being in opposition to being in leadership, those tools can enable them to maintain that credibility and that legitimacy if they use them to engage. If they don’t learn the lessons from the past and they, as the Secretary was saying, put up virtual walls, if they don’t ask people for their opinions as our government is doing now using the Internet, then they’re going to find that the legitimacy that they built will disappear. Rebecca, do you want to jump in on the leadership question? Or Clay?
[Larry Diamond]: Well, I think we saw leadership on the stage today, and I congratulate it. The second point is, I think, that we have to be careful not to view this technology as some kind of magic wand. The revolution, whether you call it a Twitter revolution or whatever, in Moldova was one in a series of counterrevolutions. Well, just look what happened in the revolution during the presidential election the other day. It’s pretty much shattered and we’re looking at the prospect of the villain of the orange revolution in Ukraine becoming the president in that country and trying to push it back as far as he can in the arms of Vladimir Putin who I think, if you want to talk about leadership, we’ve got to talk about leadership on the other side, is one of the real villains of the struggle for freedom in cyberspace. So the fundamental point I’d make, just to tweak the question you’ve raised, is we need to continue to work on many of the traditional fronts that we’ve been working on to press Internet freedom. Secretary Clinton mentioned the United Nations Human Rights Council; there’s nothing technological about that. It’s a [n]ew version of a long-established forum. So what we need to do is…both through new means, [and] technological means that she talked about and that you’re going to be helping to implement which will provide, by the way, new avenues for public diplomacy, I think it’s one of the very exciting realms here. We need to defend in very conventional ways the rights of people to use this technology. Now, the fact that we have one of the premier Egyptian bloggers here who, as Secretary Clinton noted, was detained and fortunately I guess we’re only a couple of days and Senator Lee suggested maybe something happened, something you probably can’t talk about, in terms of American diplomatic engagement with the Mubarak government that made it very clear what the cost might be of detaining these people for a long period of time. So leadership in the current era we’re in is going to involve marrying many of the new tools of communication engagement and networking with a great many traditional tools of diplomacy and advocacy to try and open up and defend its space.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: I’m going ask Rebecca to jump in on that but I think you reinforce a very important message the Secretary delivered in her speech. The technology itself can be used for good or for very bad purposes and it is exactly how we think about harnessing it, and how we harness it for our purposes and for our traditional diplomatic purposes for advancing our values, for advancing development on the economic side so that’s right, it’s not...21st century state-craft is connected to state craft historically, it’s simply using these new tools and using the power of connection
[Rebecca MacKinnon]: Well, Larry is absolutely right. The Internet (inaudible) of [a] particular unfree country and suddenly everybody’s problems are solved. And I think the Secretary did have an important dose of realism in her speech. But I think the other important thing, I mean, there’ve been some iron curtain metaphors going around quite a bit, is that we have evolved. And authoritarianism is and has evolved in the Internet age, and I think places like China are very good examples of how an authoritarian regime has become a new network authoritarian regime. That China, for instance, has not shut itself off from the global information flow completely. It’s very connected to the international community in many ways. The Chinese are not hankering off (inaudible) that there’s a great deal of network communication going on. And there’s actually the Internet has brought more give-and-take between the government and society but the government has figured out how to be more sophisticated in the way in which it censors and the way in which it manipulates information. So it can be connected to the global economy and still maintain one party authority in ways that ten, 20 years ago, I think most Americans could never have possibly imagined. And it’s much more than just censorship blocking overseas web sites and giving people enough tools to break through the firewall. The Chinese people will be freed. It’s much more complicated than that. There are many more layers of censorship going on. One has to do with the outsourcing of censorship and most of the Internet in Chinese is not on web sites outside of China, it’s on web sites run by Chinese companies inside China hosted on computers inside China. And that’s...when something appears on those sites that the government doesn’t like and it’s not being blocked, the Chinese companies hosting these sites are expected to exercise self-discipline and remove the stuff off the Internet completely.
So no amount of these cyber tools is going to help people access this information when it’s been deleted with the collaboration of the private sector. And many of these Chinese companies have Wall Street’s money. And so we need to think about that and, of course, Google has made a very public stand about really being pulled into the system in which intermediaries, companies who are serving the intermediate (inaudible) storms for both transmission of information and hosting of information are being held liable by governments like China. And I think [the] other thing we need to be careful about, particularly in looking at the global discourse on censorship, a few years ago governments like China, Enron and others, wouldn’t admit to censoring.
Now they do. Now they proudly say of course we are only exercising our sovereign right like many other governments do. And the Open Net Initiative, which is an independent portion of researchers who study Internet censorship around the world, as they’ve pointed out, ten years ago only a small handfuls of countries censored the Internet. Now a number of democracies are included in that. And so this is the other point to be made is that democratic governments are under pressure from their public to deal with terrorism and child porn and all kinds of bad things we want to deal with. And the easy solution to censorship, the easy solution is holding your intermediary IFP Internet service providers liable to what your users are doing on the network. But are we seeing a situation where we are legitimizing and enabling the un-transparent, unaccountable manipulation and blocking and censorship of information in more repressive societies? And we need to be very, very careful about where we’re taking that.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: So let me put that question to the panel because you move us to the issue of shared responsibility and you heard Secretary Clinton say she thought it should be part of the brand of American companies to stand for Internet freedom, to reject censorship to make the economic argument that this is better for business, better for customers, better for the trust and integrity that you have to have to make the Internetwork but also this is part of what it means to be an American company. Not just an American company but she was issuing that challenge. But I’d be interested in thoughts from the panel about the extent to which we can inculcate a norm of shared responsibility, corporate responsibility?
The audience pointed out there’s obviously bottom line motive. But there’s also the argument Google made when it went into China which is that it’s better to accept some degree of censorship to be part of an increase of information.
As Republican A points out, the Chinese have far more access to information than their parents did or their parent’s parents did. So it’s not an easy question. So I’d be interested in thoughts.
[Panelist]: Well one of the things that always happens when we talk about networks, we overestimate the value of accuracy and we underestimate the value of access to one another. What the Chinese have done so beautifully is they’ve said, ‘We want to maximize information flows to keep the economy going, but we want to minimize social flows to prevent the spontaneous assembly of networks.’ And on the philosophy that you manage what you measure, an interesting metric would be to what degree are citizens of any country free to associate with one another? Because with a metric like that, you could go to American companies, but you could also go to governments we have relationships with, and essentially ask that question. As the Secretary said, you know, it is case by case. It’s always a problem dealing with nation-states, it’s a very small “n,” the generalization stuff is stretched very far. But a bias that says self-assembly of people in the country, rather than just access to information as Rebecca is saying, active information from outside is only part of the problem whereas public assembly within the country, freedom of assembly from the American perspective might be an interesting metric. You go to American companies with (inaudible) and say this is essentially the outcome we’re looking at and, case by case, see how that works out.
[Panelist]: I think it’s a very interesting question. There are obvious conflicts. And it’s the longer term versus the short term for a corporation. The Secretary made a very strong case for there is more benefit to be had by having more people connect with one another whether it be by product or (inaudible). But we all know that the world and corporations are driven by the short-term gains. So I guess I would reiterate what the Secretary said. It’s not going to be easy. We have the full weight of the U.S. government and her offices behind this, I’m optimistic.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: There is also a powerful economic motive. The Secretary said, look in the end we want to be a world of one Internet rather than multiple Internets. Multiple Internets means multiple customizations of products, multiple ways in which you have to change what you’re offering and change your infrastructure so there is a powerful long term economic argument for having one set of standards, just as we might make it. I want to turn it... Does anybody else want to jump in on this question? Okay, two more and then we’ll open for questions.
[Rebecca MacKinnon]: I’d like to jump in quickly because I’m one of the people who helped to found and put together the global network initiative that the Secretary mentioned. These are tough issues and Google really agonized before it went into China in 2006 but one difference between Google and some other companies [like Yahoo!] is that they have gotten into more hot water with China over dissident information that before Google went in, they actually did think about (inaudible). They had some self-awareness that this was their responsibility. They tried to do the right thing. They re-evaluated and are...may adjust their approach but the Global Network Initiative is one effort to help companies think through these issues before they go to the market to set some benchmark principles and standards.
And it’s not about one size fits all in any market you must do... (inaudible) That’s ridiculous. You learn very subtle issues and there are very difficult tradeoffs to be made. But it’s important that people think through these things. And to speak to your other point about the interest of profits versus…, there’s something called corporate social responsibility that investors are increasingly serious about but also somebody recognizes it’s good for their business. So it used to be a hundred years ago the argument was, ‘well we can pollute the rivers and hire 12-year-olds because that increases our balance sheets,’ and society has since decided that actually there are some undesirable social externalities that cannot be accepted. And so I think that for companies to do things that damage the open Internet, I think is also beginning to be seen as one of these things just like polluting rivers and hiring 12-year-olds, it [is] not a good idea. And I think the Secretary did say corporate social responsibility can be standing... (inaudible).
[Natalia Morari]: I want to inject briefly one note of optimism, and I hope I’m not being naive in saying that I think there are several respects in which we have the wind at our back. And this administration does well in this initiative. Not only morally but economically.
And I’d refer people here if they haven’t seen it to Tom Friedman’s article in the “New York Times” yesterday, which I think was deeply insightful where he talked about the fundamental conflict between the old China and the way the regime there is trying to wall off some pieces of information and realms of information and connectivity and promote others thinking that it can have the growth and innovation and competitiveness into the indefinite future that it seeks globally. And his point was that China is going to have to choose between Command China and Network China; and, only a relatively unfettered Network China can have access to not only the information but the creativity and information that come with it that will be able to propel China and other emerging market economies like it into the kind of competitive position in the world economy of a flat world that we’re in that will enable it to prosper. And I think young Chinese know this. And there’s going to be generational change in China and that is the most important way in which the wind is at our backs.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: So let me open it to the audience. I think the bottom line is that in an inter-networked world, your ability to connect, the degree of interconnectiveness is, in fact, a measure of your ability to get done what you need to get done and that’s exactly the struggle going on. There’s a hand right here. Please introduce yourself.
Question [Jim Guerin]: This is very informative, thank you. My name is Jim Guerin, I’m the director for Initiatives for China. One of our founders is a former political prisoner in China. I thought that the Secretary’s comments about, I’m paraphrasing here, about the fact of [how] the censored Internet really creates instability in societies and economies and what have you. And your comments notwithstanding that, of course, a free and open Internet is not a panacea as Hillary referred to, my question is..., I have two questions. One is, why, then, does the Chinese government spend such enormous resources in trying to control this thing that’s getting out of control for them on the Internet? We are very small pro-democracy organization. We have a new web site under development and before we could even bring it out, the Chinese government has gone after the server and shut it down. This is, of course, of enormous cost to us because we’ve got to fight this. We don’t have the resources of the Chinese government. Now, my main question is there was a lot of talk in April or June, it was a nice article by Mr. Markov in the “New York Times” regarding software and how citizens in China and Iran are really promulgating this software and setting up services that will essentially allow them to bypass the great firewall.
And my question is if, as the Secretary says, if it’s in the interest of the United States and the world community to foster an open Internet, why don’t we throw some resources behind these initiatives and really empower the people who essentially bypass the firewalls and make it move. Let me just say that part of the Secretary’s speech was to say very, very directly that is what we are doing. How we do that is in some ways... Sometimes it is not valuable to be open about whom we’re supporting in a particular country and how. That can actually be counterproductive. But she made very clear that we are supporting the thread of those technologies and we actually are taking a stand in that particular effort and that, I think, is one of the important messages of her speech.
Answer [Rebecca MacKinnon]: I’ll talk on that briefly. Since I’m not the U.S. government’s person, I can’t speak directly. There are people who may or may not want to be identified who are building very good projects who I know are receiving State Department funding. So there are a number of tools that are being funded that I happen to know are being used to good effect in places like China and Iran. Now, you mentioned Freegate and just to be clear, there is controversy over Freegate because it’s developed by an organization called Falun Gong, which is an organization banned in China. So there may be some issues about the extent to which that particular organization gets U.S. government funding. You know, again, I don’t know the details. But I think some of the reporting about some of these issues may have obscured the reality that actually quite a bit of funding in the State Department, based on my knowledge, is going to a number of organizations. It may just be that Freegate didn’t get as much money as it wanted.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: Question from there in the back. In the blue shirt.
Q [Eric Demille]: Thanks. My question is about education, my name is Eric Demille. Not just building tools that empower people to communicate and connect and talk and have a voice, but also trying to empower generations of people in troubled regions like this with the actual technical skills to build tools themselves to empower the people. And actually building that as a foundation. The thing that comes to mind is M.I.T.’s little lab and CAD software and printing hardware and places like Ghana. Any time that these people and children would do whatever it took to build things that their friends like and that can help other people, they found it really revolutionary. So I don’t know if that specifically falls under the Department of State, but it feels like it does because of the positive effects that it can have on society there. So I just wonder what thoughts any of you guys have on that. Sort of the meta-level of building tools that help people to communicate.
A [Anne-Marie Slaughter]: So speaking for the Department of State, a large part of what the Secretary was talking about when she said we are going to create an innovation axis they will actually help us identify the kinds of tools that are particularly helpful and technologically appropriate for many different developing countries situations. Part of that means they’ll overcome market failures where it’s clear you could get the technology and you could develop the application but there’s no reason to do it. Some of it is actually to stimulate new research in areas where that could be particularly helpful, and some of it will be simply supporting organizations that are actively trying to overcome the digital divide. What she was saying is, ‘we are going to build that capacity working with universities and foundations and corporations and NGOs in... As part of our development strategy and as part of our diplomacy as well.’
[Panelist]: I’ve also been part of a State Department tech delegation to Iraq last spring, and on that delegation with several technology leaders that the State Department obviously supported and ran, we spent a lot of time talking with young people about using open source tools to be able to develop things on their own. And actually biggest obstacle that we found was not the existence to the tools, or in Iraq, access to the web but more people... That terms of do it yourself. And I think there’s much of that that needs to be overcome because a lot of these tools do exist. I know there are delegations in Mexico and Russia. And continue to put tools on the web that are open source that people can use on their own. Do you think developers and corporations do that? I think that’s big. (inaudible)
[Panelist]: This is an important point. It’s not just about we westerners giving tools to the oppressed masses elsewhere. There are incredible programmers in Africa and the Middle East and all over Asia who are doing really good work. A team that’s now helping in Haiti that started in Kenya. There are really great programmers out there all they need is attention and encouragement in helping to figure out funding so they can quit their day jobs and work on this stuff full time. So it’s not about us giving them the knowledge but it’s really empowering existing knowledge and drive and desire that’s all over the world in this society and helping them realize.
[Panelist]: And cross fertilizing. I was going say there’s a technology developed in Kenya for finding people and aggregating information, and our Haiti technology group immediately went to Kenya, got that information and applied it to Haiti which, from my point of view, is exactly the kind of thing we ought to be doing.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: You’ve been very patient. We’ve got many more hands than I’ll be able to take.
Q [Art]: My name is Art, and I’m very patient. I’ve been a leader with the government in the private sector in this field for (inaudible). Having always thought about the next problem, I’d like to follow on the gentleman’s question in the back and ask Clay, whom I admire, and several others. The Secretary used the phrase “information freedom” and “Internet freedom” interchangeably. They’re very different. And they’re very desirable. And if we put aside open source for a second, which is just the wrong set of words, in my judgment. We have a policy in this generation of educating everybody. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. We don’t charge the kids. We pay for books, we pay for schools. Now across the world we have the ability to provide information or, more appropriately, make it accessible. How does it get found? I’m not criticizing Google but we don’t want just two ways to get the information to China. I can’t go anywhere and find the second grade arithmetic class that works for English as a second language, that is consistent with the Des Moines curriculum, and that parents like, and if I’m in one of these other countries, how do I find out what is already out there? And how do we have a sustainable model that pays for it? I believe the Secretary was spot-on on what she said. But if everything were to come to pass, how do we reach these four billion mobile devices and Apple’s announcement next week and the like. And I know Clay has written extensively so I’d ask you to start.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: I will start with Clay although not for extensively.
A [Clay Shirky]: Yes, I could talk at length. What I see is that the last time we had this large a step of change in particularly the availability to the printed word was, obviously, the printing press, and it took hundreds of years before fiction was separated from non-fiction. And we had indexes. We separated journals from newspapers from books and so forth, which is to say this isn’t a quick hop.
We are really in a world where the amount of information has outstripped our ability to readily find anything. Search engines are a good patch in their current state, but they only serve certain kinds of looking. So I think like the education problem, the bias should not be how do we solve the problem because any solution is temporary as the world changes. But rather how do we create an environment where anyone who has a good idea about bringing groups of people together, about linking information together, about linking people with information can try it. Because the kinds of, the different kinds of search and discovery and push problems that we all are going to face aren’t going to be amenable to any one solution. Which is to say, I think this is probably going to get much wider rather than narrowing down to a particular answer and if the state doesn’t do anything about it, I think it will be: here is a problem, how do we find out of these (inaudible) to create these benefits to the world and how can we encourage people to try and build tools. But there’s no quick getting to that answer. I think we really have to create an environment that’s both as conducive (inaudible) to innovation.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: Yes?
Q [Audience Member]: I have a question and (inaudible) you know, I find it funny the number one country that is Cuba, we have bloggers that (inaudible) and I have a two part question. One (inaudible) and two not one telecom company has applied for a license (inaudible) support from our government side. How is this announcement having an impact, if any, on that?
A [Anne-Marie Slaughter]: I think Cuba was mentioned in the speech. Certainly it’s absolutely of a piece with the other situations she mentioned. We strongly support opening up information, telecommunications, supporting bloggers and anybody trying to use the Internet for opposition in Cuba. That’s been a part of our policy and very much so since president Obama has come into power. So if you didn’t hear that, that was by no means a deliberate omission.
A [Panelist]: Let me just add here that this is another example of the effort to open up electronics (inaudible) and I know that President Obama’s instinct is in the right direction, he made that clear in the campaign in 2008. But you know, we’ve got still a policy, that’s like 50 years old now, of embargoing a country and isolating ourselves from it, as well as them from us. It just has been an abysmal failure. And if we’re going to... We don’t want to reward the Castro regime, so we have to be very careful how we are perceived, but I think we need to take radical steps to open up the place and get physically on the ground there ultimately with an embassy. That’s going to converge with what we can do to help Cubans who are trying to use the Internet to open up their country.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: Right down here, sorry.
Q [Audience Member]: Thank you, I’m from Egypt. (inaudible) And there are a lot of similar stories as Moldova and the situation in Egypt itself (inaudible) but what I want to ask about is (inaudible). And to have (inaudible) and Egypt will have elections and what we have really (inaudible). To make it more efficient that we need more security and more technology with security. How can we do something like that? We are talking about the open tools and while having this (inaudible) that I have to make secure and using some security issues to do something with some organization that as I’m now going back to Egypt I have to make some decisions not to let my laptop be taken from me. This is the first point about the technology. The second about Moldova, this is the first time to know about it and what happened there. But I think this is typical all over the world and also for (inaudible) dreams all over the world people are connecting together and on the other hand, I hope that one way or another there will be a way (inaudible). Thank you.
A [Natalia Morari]: Well (inaudible). But maybe outreach and (inaudible) but (inaudible) and so technology, (inaudible). I think it’s just a given that the ruling party is going to rig the elections next year. And so my advice to you and your colleagues is to look around at the mechanisms with very simple technology, using Front-line SMS. Secretary Clinton talked about the tremendous amount of good work that can be done just using mobile phones and the software like Front-line SMS.
So my advice is you’ve got to start now to organize a very, very far-flung and complicated election-monitoring effort using that technology. There’s a lot of experience you can draw on, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. And in some of those circumstances they were only slightly more in this environment than what you have in Egypt now. And I’m sorry to keep bringing it back to the less high tech levels of the challenges we face. But it would be very good if we could assist you and other non-governmental organizations in Egypt in doing that if we’re in an environment now, which is what I understand that we are in, where we’re back to the bad old days where every grant we want to give to a civil society organization in Egypt has to be approved by the Egyptian government, then I think we have a very serious problem that cannot simply be circumvented by high technology.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: We’ve got time for one last question, I’m sorry. But I do want to make it very clear, that was not the State Department’s view. But I think it was a very important point made also by Natalia that part of what Secretary Clinton was doing was changing the normative framework within which we talk about this. She was saying it’s not okay to censor. Freedom of expression is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s not an American declaration; it’s a global declaration. We’re not going to engage [in restriction of freedom of expression]. (inaudible) It (inaudible) is basic freedoms and rights that are guaranteed and we’re going to have an open debate. We’re not going to simply stand back when those claims are made openly.
[Katie Dowd]: Anne-Marie? Sorry to interrupt. This is Katie over here. I wanted to make sure before we take the last question that we have a special question from the Internet we had collected and I wanted to make sure that that question could be asked.
Q [Internet Question-Yia]: I’m Bianca from Hong Kong, and we have tens of thousands of questions from the Internet. And this question is from Yia from Iran who is currently living in Ireland: What should be the response of the United States to ensure these rights...? Human rights abuses and the obvious curtailment of the freedom of expression.
A [Panelist]: So it’s actually a great question to end on because, again, the central message of the speech was the United States accepts the responsibility to stand up for freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to connect on the Internet. This is the frontier where we have to take the stand we’ve taken and continue to take, as Larry keeps saying, in every domain. In actual physical speech, just as much as virtual speech. So our responsibility is to stand up, is to support those who are fighting to make their views heard in every way that we can, and I think it is also to engage government openly in this discussion.
There are many different models of how governments regulate. The United States is at one end of the spectrum. We have democracies on liable laws, on security, on freedom of information. But there is a spectrum, but there’s a fundamental divide between the view that has always characterized the first amendment which is, ‘the best answer for speech is more speech.’ The answer to speech is not to shut it down: it’s the answer. And Secretary Clinton said to governments all over the world, ‘you should not shut down these viewings, you should answer them, you should engage on debate.’
You may actually find the person you’re debating is misinformed or there’s a better view. But the way you say that is through the marketplace of ideas. You do not stop people from speaking, you do not stop opposition: you answer it and you engage in open debate and open political discourse and that way you have a better society, you have a better politics, you have a better economy and ultimately you will allow all individuals to reach their potential through every way they can. That, I think, was part of what she was trying to say that. It is a responsibility we take on and embrace.
[Anne-Marie Slaughter]: I take that point and, again, part of our job is also to connect people with each other. This is not the United States supporting and doing often simply to connect those to others; it’s the power of the young people. It’s the power of bloggers, of opposition activists who are working with each other and are facilitating that far greater power than the power of any one government. I thank you, I’m sorry we don’t have more time. I hope this conversation will continue given how many people live online in this audience, I’m sure it will. Thank you very much. (applause)
CO.NX Moderator (Jenn): The webchat is now closed. We wish to thank our panelists for joining us today. A transcript of today’s webchat will be posted to http://co-nx.state.gov and to http://www.america.gov/multimedia/askamerica.html within three business days. Presenters are chosen for their expertise and may not reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State.