Clinton to Emphasize Internet Freedom as U.S. Policy

 
 
By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2010-01-20
 
 
 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to put forward Internet freedom as a major facet of U.S. foreign policy in a Jan. 21 major address at Washington's Newseum. The 9:30 a.m. EST speech will also be streamed live at http://www.state.gov.

According to State Department officials, no secretary of state has ever given a major policy speech based on Internet freedoms, and Clinton will "roll out deliverables" that will mark a significant shift in U.S. policy designed to encourage global online freedom.

"We don't just view the issue of Internet freedom as an issue of freedom of expression," Alec Ross, Clinton's senior adviser for innovation, said Jan. 20 at a panel discussion hosted by the American Foundation and Slate magazine. "But it also goes to the issue of what kind of world we want to live in. Do we want to live in a world where there is one Internet ... or do we want to live in a world where the information you have access to, the knowledge you have access to, is based on what country you live in?"

The speech comes a little more than a week after Google informed the State Department that the search giant and as many as 30 other U.S. companies were victims of cyber-attacks generated from within China. In Google's case, the attacks attempted to gain access to the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.

Google responded Jan. 12 by saying it would stop censoring searches on its Google.cn site and reconsider the feasibility of doing business in China at all. Google in 2006 agreed to censor searches on Google.cn, a decision it defended at the time as a "judgment that Google.cn will make a meaningful-though imperfect-contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China."

Following the cyber-attacks reported by Google, Clinton said, "We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation." The State Department has already filed a formal complaint with China.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who is charged with negotiating trade agreements with China and other countries, took a slightly different tack, questioning the security risks of doing business with China.

"The recent cyber-intrusion that Google attributes to China is troubling to the U.S. government and American companies doing business in China," Locke said in a statement. "This incident should be equally troubling to the Chinese government. The ... administration encourages the government of China to work with Google and other U.S. companies to ensure a climate for secure commercial operations in the Chinese market."

Despite the focus on Google, Ross noted that the dispute is primarily between a U.S. corporation and China. "We're taking this very seriously, but, all that said, the State Department is not the foreign policy arm of Google," he said.

Reuters reported that Minister Wang Chen of China's State Council Information Office said in an interview, "Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts. Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu added in another interview, "China welcomes international Internet businesses developing services in China according to the law. Chinese law proscribes any form of hacking activity."

Ross said Clinton's policy speech will address China's Internet policy but that a number of other countries also engage in Internet censorship.

"It's something that's been of a great deal of concern because it really exists at the convergence of economic issues, human rights issues and security issues," Ross said.

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