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January 22, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Hillary Clinton's historic speech


Reporters Without Borders welcomes yesterday’s speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the future of the Internet. Speaking at the Newseum in Washington DC, she expressed clear support for online freedom of expression, identifying it as a priority of US foreign policy. While stressing the need for stronger law enforcement measures to counter hackers who target US interests, Clinton also urged American companies to take a “principled stand” against online censorship, calling on major industry players to convene in the coming months to discuss censorship and their responsibilities towards users. Discussing the current overall degradation of freedom of expression, Clinton told her audience that, as the “birthplace” of so many online technologies, the United States had a “responsibility” to protect the Internet as a tool for economic and social development and promoting democracy, as well as a place for the free exchange of ideas. “We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” she added. Reporters Without Borders commends Clinton’s commitment to devote more resources towards the development of software to circumvent censorship and the support of Internet freedom initiatives. The press freedom organisation suggests that the several million dollars of aid that the US has already earmarked but not yet spent should be channeled to groups such as the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, which have enabled millions of Internet users in China, Iran and other countries to access blocked information and inform the rest of the world about important events in their own countries. Clinton herself paid tribute to the “brave citizen journalists in Iran (who) continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening in their country.” Reporters Without Borders welcomes the US government’s desire to meet next month with the leading Internet sector companies to tackle the issue of censorship and their responsibility towards Internet users. However, reactivating the Global Internet Task Force, a forum organised by the State Department and consisting of IT companies, investors and NGOs, will only be a positive development if the Obama administration is committed to giving the task force the means to obtain concrete results, rather than simply using it as a talking point as the previous administration did. Clinton also encouraged companies to “take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance,” a stance that signals US government support for IT companies involved in disputes with repressive regimes. Reporters Without Borders urges Microsoft, Yahoo! and Cisco to stand up to the online censors and to form a common front against censorship in these countries. Likening online censorship to the Iron Curtain, Clinton warned that “a new information curtain is descending across much of the world” and did not hesitate to include such traditional US allies as Saudi Arabia and Egypt among the countries singled out for censoring the Internet and harassing bloggers and other Internet users. She also said it was essential to combat the use of the Internet as a tool for promoting hate, pedophilia, terrorist recruitment and the theft of intellectual property, but warned that “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.” The US Secretary of State’s speech comes amid a high-profile dispute between China and Google, which announced on 12 January that it would no longer censor results for its Chinese search engine even if this meant it would have to pull out of the Chinese market. Google made its decision after the Google Mail accounts of dozens of dissidents and human rights activists were broken into by hackers. Clinton condemned the cyber-attacks against Google, which were similar to recent ones against other American companies. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyber-attacks should face consequences and international condemnation,” she said, adding that the United States was now looking to China to conduct a review of the attacks against Google and calling for “that investigation and its results to be transparent.” Reporters Without Borders calls on the FBI to pay particularly close attention to the cyber-attacks that have taken place against human rights activists who criticise the Chinese government and against online media that cover sensitive issues. In early September, there were major distributed denial-of-service attacks on Boxun.com, an independent Chinese news website based in the United States. The Chinese-language version of the Reporters Without Borders website was blocked for several days as a result of the attacks. The Chinese government reacted sharply to Clinton’s speech. Agence France-Presse quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying: “We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which go against the facts and are harmful to China-US relations.” He insisted that the Chinese Internet was open and that China was a country where Internet development was very active. He also said the Chinese constitution protected free expression and that Internet development was an established political reality for everyone. China has created the world’s most sophisticated system of online censorship and surveillence. While supporting the Internet’s development for business purposes, the Chinese government has imposed draconian controls on its political and historical content and has turned it into a tool for spreading its own propaganda.