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Internet Freedom

Internet Freedom

The prepared text of U.S. of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech, delivered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Alberto for that kind introduction. It’s a
pleasure to be here at the Newseum. This institution is a monument to some of
our most precious freedoms, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to discuss
how those freedoms apply to the challenges of the 21st century. I’m also
delighted to see so many friends and former colleagues.

This is an important speech on an important subject. But
before I begin, I want to speak briefly about Haiti. During the last nine days,
the people of Haiti and the people of the world have joined together to deal
with a tragedy of staggering proportions. Our hemisphere has seen its share of
hardship, but there are few precedents for the situation we’re facing in
Port-au-Prince.  Communication networks
have played a critical role in our response. In the hours after the quake, we
worked with partners in the private sector to set up the text "HAITI"
campaign so that mobile phone users in the United States could donate to relief
efforts via text message.  That
initiative has been a showcase for the generosity of the American people and
it’s raised over $25 million for recovery efforts.

Information networks have also played a critical role on
the ground.

The technology community has set up interactive maps to
help identify needs and target resources. And on Monday, a seven-year-old girl
and two women were pulled from the rubble of a collapsed supermarket by an
American search and rescue team after they sent a text message calling for
help. These examples are manifestations of a much broader phenomenon.

The spread of information networks is forming a new
nervous system for our planet. When something happens in Haiti or Hunan the
rest of us learn about it in real time – from real people. And we can respond
in real time as well. Americans eager to help in the aftermath of a disaster
and the girl trapped in that supermarket are connected in ways that we weren’t
a generation ago.  That same principle
applies to almost all of humanity. As we sit here today, any of you – or any of
our children – can take out tools we carry with us every day and transmit this
discussion to billions across the world.

In many respects, information has never been so free. There
are more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in
history. Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping
people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.

During his visit to China in November, President Obama
held a town hall meeting with an online component to highlight the importance
of the internet. In response to a question that was sent in over the internet,
he defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the
more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about
how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable,
generates new ideas, and encourages creativity. The United States’ belief in
that truth is what brings me here today.

But amid this unprecedented surge in connectivity, we
must also recognize that these technologies are not an unmitigated blessing. These
tools are also being exploited to undermine human progress and political
rights. Just as steel can be used to build hospitals or machine guns and
nuclear energy can power a city or destroy it, modern information networks and
the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or ill. The same
networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable al Qaeda to spew
hatred and incite violence against the innocent. And technologies with the
potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be
hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.

In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the
free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their
censorship of the internet. In Vietnam, access to popular social networking
sites has suddenly disappeared. And last Friday in Egypt, 30 bloggers and
activists were detained. One member of this group, Bassem Samir – who is
thankfully no longer in prison – is with us today. So while it is clear that
the spread of these technologies is transforming our world, it is still unclear
how that transformation will affect the human rights and welfare of much of the
world’s population.


On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the
struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does. We stand for a
single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And
we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we
and others make of it.

This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help
ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The
words of the First Amendment to the Constitution are carved in 50 tons of
Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of
Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered
his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. At the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of
crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all
people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want,
and freedom from fear transcended the trouble of his day.

Years later, one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, worked
to have these principles adopted as a cornerstone of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. They have provided a lodestar to every succeeding generation –
guiding us, galvanizing us, and enabling us to move forward in the face of

As technology hurtles forward, we must think back to that
legacy. 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 dignity of every
individual." And in my speech on human rights at Georgetown 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.

There are many other networks in the world – some aid in
the movement of people or resources; and some facilitate exchanges between

with the same work or interests. 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


First among them is the freedom of expression. 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,
email, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for
exchanging ideas – and created new targets for censorship.

As I speak to you today, government censors are working
furiously to erase my words from the records of history. But history itself has
already condemned these tactics. Two months ago, I was in Germany to celebrate
the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The leaders gathered at
that ceremony paid tribute to the courageous men and women on the far side of
that barrier who made the case against oppression by circulating small
pamphlets called samizdat. These leaflets questioned the claims and intentions
of dictatorships in the Eastern Bloc, and many people paid dearly for
distributing them. But their words helped pierce the concrete and concertina
wire of the Iron Curtain.

The Berlin Wall symbolized a world divided, and it
defined an entire era. Today, remnants of that wall sit inside this museum –
where they belong. And the new iconic infrastructure of our age is the

Instead of division, it stands for connection. But even
as networks spread to nations around the globe, virtual walls are cropping up
in place of visible walls.

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that
prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They have
expunged words, names and phrases from search engine results. They have
violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These
actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us
that all people have the right "to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." With the spread
of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across
much of the world. Beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are
becoming the samizdat of our day.

As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are
targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. In the demonstrations that
followed Iran’s presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young
woman’s bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government’s
brutality. We’ve seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online
criticism of their nation’s leaders, their family members in Iran were singled
out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government
intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to
show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening in their country. In
speaking out on behalf of their own human rights the Iranian people have
inspired the world.

And their courage is redefining how technology is used to
spread truth and expose injustice.

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 Qaeda who are – at this moment – using the internet to promote the
mass murder of innocent people. And hate speech that targets individuals on the
basis of their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible. It is
an unfortunate fact that these issues are both growing challenges that the
international community must confront together. 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.


The freedom of expression may be the most obvious freedom
to face challenges with the spread of new technologies, but it is not alone. The
freedom of worship usually involves the rights of individuals to commune – or
not commune – with their Creator. And that’s one channel of communication that
does not rely on technology. 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, temples, and mosques. Today, they may also take place on line.

The internet can help bridge divides between people of
different faiths.

As the president said in Cairo, "freedom of religion
is central to the ability of people to live together." And as we look for
ways to expand dialogue, the internet holds out tremendous promise. We have
already begun connecting students in the United States with young people in
Muslim communities around the world to discuss global challenges. And we will
continue using this tool to foster discussion between individuals in different
religious communities.

Some nations, however, have co-opted the internet as a
tool to target and silence people of faith. Last year in Saudi Arabia, a man
spent months in prison for blogging about Christianity. And a Harvard study
found that the Saudi government blocked many web pages about Hinduism, Judaism,
Christianity, and even Islam. Countries including Vietnam and China employed
similar tactics to restrict access to religious information.

Just as these technologies must not be used to punish
peaceful political speech, they must not be used to persecute or silence
religious minorities. Prayers will always travel on higher networks. But
connection technologies like the internet and social networking sites should
enhance individuals’ ability to worship as they see fit, come together with
people of their own faith, and learn more about the beliefs of others. We must
work to advance the freedom of worship online just as we do in other areas of


There are, of course, hundreds of millions of people
living without the benefits of these technologies. In our world, talent is
distributed universally, but opportunity is not. And we know from long
experience that promoting social and economic development in countries where
people lack access to knowledge, markets, capital, and opportunity can be
frustrating, and sometimes futile work. In this context, the internet can serve
as a great equalizer. By providing people with access to knowledge and
potential markets, networks can create opportunity where none exists.

Over the last year, I’ve seen this first hand. In Kenya,
where farmers have seen their income grow by as much as 30% since they started
using mobile banking technology. In Bangladesh, where more than 300,000 people
have signed up to learn English on their mobile phones. And in sub-Saharan
Africa, where women entrepreneurs use the internet to get access to microcredit
loans and connect to global markets. These examples of progress can be
replicated in the lives of the billion people at the bottom of the world’s
economic ladder.  In many cases,

the internet, mobile phones, and other connection
technologies can do for economic growth what the green revolution did for
agriculture. You can now generate significant yields from very modest inputs. One
World Bank study found that in a typical developing country, a 10% increase in
the penetration rate for mobile phones led to an almost one percent annual
increase in per capita GDP. To put that in perspective, for India, that would
translate into almost $10 billion a year.

A connection to global information networks is like an on
a ramp to modernity. In the early years of these technologies, many believed
they would divide the world between haves and have-nots. That hasn’t happened.
There are 4 billion cell phones in use today – many are in the hands of market
vendors, rickshaw drivers, and others who’ve historically lacked access to
education and opportunity. Information networks have become a great leveler,
and we should use them to help lift people out of poverty.


We have every reason to be hopeful about what people can
accomplish when they leverage communication networks and connection
technologies to achieve progress. But some will use global information networks
for darker purposes. Violent extremists, criminal cartels, sexual predators,
and authoritarian governments all seek to exploit global networks. Just as
terrorists have taken advantage of the openness of our society to carry out
their plots, violent extremists use the internet to radicalize and intimidate. As
we work to advance these freedoms, we must also work against those who use
communication networks as tools of disruption and fear.

Governments and citizens must have confidence that the
networks at the core of their national security and economic prosperity are
safe and resilient. This is about more than petty hackers who deface websites.

Our ability to bank online, use electronic commerce, and
safeguard billions of dollars in intellectual property are all at stake if we
cannot rely on the security of information networks.

Disruptions in these systems demand a coordinated
response by governments, the private sector, and the international community. 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 migrate online. We applaud
efforts such as the Council on Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime that
facilitate international cooperation in prosecuting such offenses.

We have taken steps as a government, and as a Department,
to find diplomatic solutions to strengthen global cyber security. Over a
half-dozen different Bureaus have joined together to work on this issue, and
two years ago we created an office to coordinate foreign policy in cyberspace.
We have worked to address this challenge at the UN and other multilateral
forums and put cyber-security on the world’s agenda. And President Obama has
appointed a new national cyberspace policy coordinator who will help us work
even more closely to ensure that our networks stay free, secure, and reliable.

States, terrorists, and those who would act as their
proxies must know that the United States will protect our networks. Those who
disrupt the free flow of information in our society, or any other, pose a
threat to our economy, our government and our civil society. Countries or
individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and
international condemnation. In an interconnected world, an attack on one
nation’s networks can be an attack on all. By reinforcing that message, we can
create norms of behavior among states and encourage respect for the global
networked commons.


The final freedom I want to address today 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 in cyber
space. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully
cooperate in the name of progress. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need
to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.

The largest public response to the terrorist attacks in
Mumbai was launched by a 13-year-old boy. He used social networks to organize
blood drives and a massive interfaith book of condolence. In Colombia, an
unemployed engineer brought together more than 12 million people in 190 cities
around the world to demonstrate against the FARC terrorist movement. The
protests were the largest anti-terrorist demonstrations in history. In the
weeks that followed, the FARC saw more demobilizations and desertions than it
had during a decade of military action. And in Mexico, a single email from a
private citizen who was fed up with drug-related violence snowballed into huge
demonstrations in all of the country’s 32 states. In Mexico City alone, 150,000
people took to the streets in protest. The internet can help humanity push back
against those who promote violence and extremism.

In Iran, Moldova, and many other countries, online
organizing has been a critical tool for advancing democracy, and enabling
citizens to protest suspicious election results. Even in established
democracies like the United States, we’ve seen the power of these tools to
change history. Some of you may still remember the 2008 presidential

The freedom to connect to these technologies can help
transform societies, but it is also critically important to individuals. I
recently heard the story of a doctor who had been trying desperately to
diagnose his daughter’s rare medical condition. After consulting with two dozen
specialists, he still didn’t have an answer. He finally identified the
condition – and a cure – by using an internet search engine. That’s one of the
reasons why unfettered access to search engine technology is so important.


The principles I’ve outlined today will guide our
approach to the issue of internet freedom and the use of these technologies. And
I want to speak about how we apply them in practice. The United States is
committed to devoting the diplomatic, economic and technological resources
necessary to advance these freedoms. We are a nation made up of immigrants from
every country and interests that span the globe. Our foreign policy is premised
on the idea that no country stands to benefit more when cooperation among
peoples and states increases. And no country shoulders a heavier burden when
conflict drives nations apart.

We are well placed to seize the opportunities that come
with interconnectivity. And as the birthplace for so many of these
technologies, we have a responsibility to see them used for good. To do that,
we need to develop our capacity for 21st century statecraft.

Realigning our policies and our priorities won’t be easy.
But adjusting to new technology rarely is. When the telegraph was introduced,
it was a source of great anxiety for many in the diplomatic community, where
the prospect of receiving daily instructions from Washington was not entirely
welcome. But just as our diplomats eventually mastered the telegraph, I have
supreme confidence that the world can harness the potential of these new tools
as well.

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 in at the United Nations as well, and included
internet freedom as a component in the first resolution we introduced after
returning to the UN Human Rights Council.

We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable
citizens to exercise their right of free expression by circumventing
politically motivated censorship. We are working globally 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. The United States has been
assisting in these efforts for some time. Both the American people and nations
that censor the internet should understand that our government is proud to help
promote internet freedom.

We need to put these tools in the hands of people around
the world who will use them to advance democracy and human rights, fight
climate change and epidemics, build global support for President Obama’s goal
of a world without nuclear weapons, and encourage sustainable economic
development. That’s why today I’m announcing that over the next year, we will
work with partners in industry, academia, and non-governmental 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 also address deficiencies in the
current market for innovation.

Let me give you one example: let’s say I want to create a
mobile phone application that would allow people to rate government ministries
on their responsiveness, efficiency, and level of corruption. The hardware
required to make this idea work is already in the hands of billions of
potential users. And the software involved would be relatively inexpensive to
develop and deploy. If people took advantage of this tool, it would help us
target foreign assistance spending, improve lives, and encourage foreign
investment in countries with responsible governments – all good things. However,
right now, mobile application developers have no financial incentive to pursue
that project on their own and the State Department lacks a mechanism to make it
happen. This initiative should help resolve that problem, and provide long-term
dividends from modest investments in innovation. We’re going to work with
experts to find the best structure for this venture, and we’ll need the talent
and resources of technology companies and non-profit organizations in order to
get the best results. So for those of you in this room, consider yourselves

In the meantime, there are companies, individuals, and
institutions working on ideas and applications that could advance our
diplomatic and development objectives. 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 to break down language barriers, overcome illiteracy,
and connect people to the services and information they need. Microsoft, for
example, has already developed a prototype for a digital doctor that could help
provide medical care in isolated rural communities. We want to see more ideas
like that. And we’ll work with the winners of the competition and provide grant
to help build their ideas to scale.


As we work together with the private sector and foreign
governments to deploy the tools of 21st century statecraft, we need to remember
our shared responsibility to safeguard the freedoms I’ve talked about today.

We feel strongly that principles like information freedom
aren’t just good policy, they’re good business for all involved. To use market
terminology, a publicly-listed company in Tunisia or Vietnam that operates in
an environment of censorship will always trade at a discount relative to an
identical firm in a free society. If corporate decision makers don’t have access
to global sources of news and information, investors will have less confidence
in their decisions. Countries that censor news and information must recognize
that, from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring
political speech and commercial speech. If businesses in your nation are denied
access to either type of information, it will inevitably reduce growth.

Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of
information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions. I hope
that their competitors and foreign governments will pay close attention to this

The most recent example of Google’s review of its
business operations in China has attracted a great deal of interest. We look to
Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions
that led Google to make this announcement. We also look for that investigation
and its results to be transparent. The internet has already been a source of
tremendous progress in China, and it’s great that so many people there are now
online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the
basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of
the next century. The United States and China have different views on this
issue. And we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently.

Ultimately, this issue isn’t just about information
freedom; it’s about what kind of world we’re going to inhabit. It’s about
whether we live on a planet with one internet, one global community, and a
common body of knowledge that unites and benefits us all. Or a fragmented
planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you
live and the whims of censors.

Information freedom supports the peace and security that
provide a foundation for global progress. Historically, asymmetrical access to
information is one of the leading causes of interstate conflict. When we face
serious disputes or dangerous incidents, it’s critical that people on both
sides of the problem have access to the same set of facts and opinions.

As it stands, Americans can consider information
presented by foreign governments – we do not block their attempts to
communicate with people in the United States. But citizens in societies that
practice censorship lack exposure to outside views. In North Korea, for
example, the government has tried to completely isolate its citizens from
outside opinions. This lop-sided access to information increases both the
likelihood of conflict and the probability that small disagreements will
escalate. I hope responsible governments with an interest in global stability
will work to address such imbalances.

For companies, this issue is about more than claiming the
moral high ground; it comes down to the trust between firms and their
customers. Consumers everywhere want to have confidence that the internet
companies they rely on will provide comprehensive search results and act as
responsible stewards of their information. Firms that earn that confidence will
prosper in a global marketplace. Those who lose it will also lose customers. I
hope that refusal to support politically-motivated censorship will become a
trademark characteristic of American technology companies. It should be part of
our national brand. I’m confident that consumers worldwide will reward firms
that respect these principles.

We are reinvigorating the Global Internet Freedom Task
Force as a forum for addressing threats to internet freedom around the world, and
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. And when their
business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider
what’s right, not simply the prospect of quick profits.

We’re also encouraged by the work that’s being done
through the Global Network Initiative – a voluntary effort by technology
companies who are working with non-governmental organization, academic experts,
and social investment funds to respond to government requests for censorship. The
Initiative goes beyond mere statements of principle and establishes mechanisms
to promote real accountability and transparency. 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 on internet freedom. We hope to work
together to address this challenge.


Pursuing the freedoms I’ve talked about today is the
right thing to do.

But it’s also the smart thing to do. By advancing this
agenda, we align our principles, our economic goals, and our strategic
priorities. We need to create a world in which access to networks and
information brings people closer together, and expands our definition of

Given the magnitude of the challenges we’re facing, we
need people around the world to pool their knowledge and creativity to help
rebuild the global economy, protect our environment, defeat violent extremism,
and build a future in which every human being can realize their God-given

Let me close by asking you to remember the little girl
who was pulled from the rubble on Monday in Port-au-Prince. She is alive, was
reunited with her family, and will have the opportunity to help rebuild her
nation because these networks took a voice that was buried and spread it to the
world. No nation, group, or individual should stay buried in the rubble of
oppression. We cannot stand by while people are separated from our human family
by walls of censorship. And we cannot be silent about these issues simply
because we cannot hear their cries. Let us recommit ourselves to this cause. Let
us make these technologies a force for real progress the world over. And let us
go forward together to champion these freedoms.


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