Clinton to Promote ‘Freedom to Connect’ to the Internet

Feb 15, 2011 10:01am

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will deliver what’s billed as a major address on internet freedom at George Washington University today, promoting what she calls the “freedom to connect."

The speech will follow on a similar speech last year, and comes just days after Egypt, Iran, and other countries in the region have tried to manipulate internet access to quell uprisings. State Department officials also say the speech will serve as Clinton’s “post-Wikileaks” address. The speech had originally been scheduled for a few weeks ago, but was delayed, in part because of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

An aide to Clinton says she will “reaffirm U.S. support for a free and open Internet and underscore the importance of safeguarding both liberty and security, transparency and confidentiality, and freedom of expression and tolerance.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Clinton will also unveil a new policy, a year in the making, to support and train human rights activists, opposition figures, and civil society members how to go around government controls of the internet and mobile devices.

According to excerpts made available from her remarks, Clinton will defend an open internet.

"We are convinced that an open Internet fosters long-term peace, progress and prosperity.  The reverse is also true.  An Internet that is closed and fractured, where different governments can block activity or change the rules on a whim—where speech is censored or punished, and privacy does not exist—that is an Internet that can cut off opportunities for peace and progress and discourage innovation and entrepreneurship,” she will say.

“History has shown us that repression often sows the seeds for revolution down the road.  Those who clamp down on Internet freedom may be able to hold back the full impact of their people’s yearnings for a while, but not forever… Leaders worldwide have a choice to make.  They can let the Internet in their countries flourish, and take the risk that the freedoms it enables will lead to a greater demand for political rights.  Or they can constrict the Internet, choke the freedoms it naturally sustains—and risk losing all the economic and social benefits that come from a networked society,” she’ll say.

Clinton will also reference the important role the internet has played in recent Mideast uprisings.

“There is a debate underway in some circles about whether the Internet is a force for liberation or repression.  But as the events in Iran, Egypt and elsewhere have shown, that debate is largely beside the point.  The Internet isn’t good or bad.  It is both.  It is neither.  What matters is what people who go online do there, and what principles should guide us as we come together in cyberspace.  That question becomes more urgent every day,” she plans to say.

She’ll trumpet the “freedom to connect,” saying “the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I have called the freedom to connect.  The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same.”

While Clinton will highlight what she considers the essential role of an open internet, her own department fell victim to that same openness last year when the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks posted online thousands of secret State Department cables, throwing open the doors of America’s diplomatic efforts around the world. With somewhat ironic timing given Clinton’s planned remarks, today at the US District Court in Alexandria, the Justice Department will pursue Twitter records as part of its probe into the Wikileaks breach.

 -Kirit Radia

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