21st Century Statecraft: the Internet as Diplomat

Rather than installing government filters, as China and Iran have done, or mandating that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) undertake the task, advocates should insist that users be empowered to make content choices for themselves and their families, using the vast array of blocking and filtering tools the market provides.

Government-Mandated Technologies Should Be Opposed

Government-mandated technologies such as China's Green Dam should be opposed. And just as critical to Internet freedom, advocates should fight laws that hold Internet service providers and online content providers liable for the content posted by users.

Protection from intermediary liability -- the law in both the U.S. and Europe -- has been the single most important bulwark of Internet free expression, and has allowed the proliferation of innovative services and the emergence of new participatory media at the heart of Web 2.0.

Without this protection, censorship will simply shift from the state to the Internet provider and the expressive potential of Web 2.0 will be lost.

The State Department has already begun to harness social networking tools and circumvention technologies to ensure that those on the front lines of the fight for global Internet freedom have access to information untouched by government censors and tools to organize and collaborate across borders.

Clinton noted in her speech, "Now, ultimately, this issue isn't just about information freedom… 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."

The State Department should continue to support the expanded development and use of such tools. However, we must put this important work in perspective: There is no "app" for Internet freedom and technology alone will not provide a complete solution.

Internet Freedom Begins at Home

Advocating for Internet freedom requires clean hands.

As democratic nations increasingly seek to assert sovereignty over the global network, there has been a rise in ill-advised policies that are sure to spread. While the West decries China's repressive tactics, the West is making some of the same missteps. France recently adopted a "three strikes" law that includes the threat of Internet" banning" for copyright infringers.

Australia has instituted a troubling content-filtering regime. Turkey is blocking YouTube to punish Google's refusal to block content for the entire world. And Italy, already prosecuting several Google executives for the content of a YouTube video, is now poised to enact a law that mandates government licensing and approval of web video platforms and posted videos.

And of course since 9/11, both the U.S. and Western Europe have taken steps that make it easier to spy on the activities of Internet users and access personal information, actions that repressive countries are quick to cite in support of their own surveillance.

After Clinton's speech, Chinese government officials quickly retorted, "[I]n order to oppose terrorism, the American police had the power to search the content of the People's e-mails, and can even -- without good reason -- spy on the Peoples' communications. How does Ms. Hillary's 'Internet freedom, free flow of information' theory explain that?"

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