[Ed. note: I attended Secretary Clinton’s speech on internet freedom on Thursday the 21st, which I thought was a good combination of principle, policy, and illustrative stories. Talking to people afterwards, the commonest question was “What did the Secretary commit the State Department to?” The text below is my attempt to answer that question.
I don’t have any inside information about the particulars of the State department’s plans; the text below is simply an abridged version of the speech, from which I removed everything except statements you could judge future actions of the State Department on. Stripped of it’s context (and with my apologies to the speech writers), my read of the speech is that the success or failure of our internet freedom policy will come down to our ability to live up to the principles outlined below. -clay]
We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.
[Internet freedom as an aspect of human rights]
We need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles. In accepting the Nobel Prize, President Obama spoke about the need to build a world in which peace rests on the inherent rights and dignities of every individual. And in my speech on human rights at Georgetown a few days later, I talked about how we must find ways to make human rights a reality. Today, we find an urgent need to protect these freedoms on the digital frontiers of the 21st century.
[Freedom of expression]
But the internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms. Freedom of expression is first among them. This freedom is no longer defined solely by whether citizens can go into the town square and criticize their government without fear of retribution. Blogs, emails, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas, and created new targets for censorship.
[Exceptions for incitement to violence; disapproval of hate speech]
Now, all societies recognize that free expression has its limits. We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are, at this moment, using the internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible.
[Acknowledgment of hard cases, which are nevertheless subordinate to peaceful political uses]
And we must also grapple with the issue of anonymous speech. Those who use the internet to recruit terrorists or distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes.
[Freedom of worship]
But the freedom of worship also speaks to the universal right to come together with those who share your values and vision for humanity. In our history, those gatherings often took place in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Today, they may also take place on line.
Now, just as these technologies must not be used to punish peaceful political speech, they must also not be used to persecute or silence religious minorities.
We must work to advance the freedom of worship online just as we do in other areas of life.
[International coordination on cybersecurity]
We need more tools to help law enforcement agencies cooperate across jurisdictions when criminal hackers and organized crime syndicates attack networks for financial gain. The same is true when social ills such as child pornography and the exploitation of trafficked women and girls online is there for the world to see and for those who exploit these people to make a profit. We applaud efforts such as the Council on Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime that facilitate international cooperation in prosecuting such offenses. And we wish to redouble our efforts.
Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation.
[Freedom to connect, likened to freedom of assembly]
The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I’ve already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other.
The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace.
[USG support for the broad goals]
The United States is committed to devoting the diplomatic, economic, and technological resources necessary to advance these freedoms.
[Support for dissidents; return to theme of human rights]
And I’m proud that the State Department is already working in more than 40 countries to help individuals silenced by oppressive governments. We are making this issue a priority at the United Nations as well, and we’re including internet freedom as a component in the first resolution we introduced after returning to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
[USG funding research into freedom-supporting tools]
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.
[USG support for the broad goals II]
Both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom.
[USG funding research into freedom-supporting tools II]
That’s why today I’m announcing that over the next year, we will work with partners in industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations to establish a standing effort that will harness the power of connection technologies and apply them to our diplomatic goals. By relying on mobile phones, mapping applications, and other new tools, we can empower citizens and leverage our traditional diplomacy. We can address deficiencies in the current market for innovation.
And the State Department will be launching an innovation competition to give this work an immediate boost. We’ll be asking Americans to send us their best ideas for applications and technologies that help break down language barriers, overcome illiteracy, connect people to the services and information they need.
[Pro-freedom agenda in the market]
Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions. I hope that their competitors and foreign governments will pay close attention to this trend.
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.
[Support for Global Internet Freedom Task Force]
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.
[February 2010 meeting with network services firms]
As part of our commitment to support responsible private sector engagement on information freedom, the State Department will be convening a high-level meeting next month co-chaired by Under Secretaries Robert Hormats and Maria Otero to bring together firms that provide network services for talks about internet freedom, because we want to have a partnership in addressing this 21st century challenge.