Clinton urges Internet freedom, cybersecurity

Secretary of State puts information technology at center of foreign policy strategies

 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today reiterated the U.S. government’s commitment to an open Internet and said countries or people who engage in cyberattacks should face consequences or international condemnation.

During a speech in Washington, Clinton condemned Internet censorship and touted uses of information technology in the developing world.

“On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does....we need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles,” she said.

Clinton said threats to the free flow of information had increased over the past year. She added that China, Tunisia and Uzbekistan have increased Internet censorship. Clinton also said as networks spread around the world, “virtual walls are cropping up in place of physical walls.”

Clinton identified the ability to connect – which she likened to the right to freedom of assembly – as one of the basic principles that will guide related U.S. efforts.

She also emphasized the importance of computer security.

"States, terrorists and those who would act as their proxies must know that the United States will protect our networks," she said. "In an Internet-connected world, an attack on one nation’s networks can be an attack on all and by reinforcing that message we can create norms of behavior among states and encourage respect for the global networked commons.”

Meanwhile, she said the U.S. is supporting new tools that let people circumvent politically motivated censorship on the Internet.

She said the State Department will start an innovation competition for companies and institutions that are working on ideas and applications that could advance the U.S. diplomatic and development objectives. 

Clinton said the private sector shares the responsibility to safeguard free expression and she urged U.S. media companies to challenge foreign government’s demands for censorship and surveillance.

Clinton also reiterated her expectation that the Chinese government would look into recent allegations that a cyberattack against Google’s infrastructure originated in China, with a primary goal of accessing Chinese human rights activists' Gmail accounts. Google has said it’s no longer willing to go along with the Chinese government and censor, a version of Google for China, and is reassessing the feasibility of doing business in the country.

“We look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement,” Clinton said. “And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent.”

In response to Clinton’s speech, Phil Bond, the president and CEO of the technology trade association TechAmerica, said, “We agree with Secretary Clinton that a single, secure and uncensored Internet is critical both for human rights and global prosperity and that this principle should be an active matter of U.S. foreign policy.”

However, in his statement, Bond added that “Except in cases involving outright sanctions asserted by the U.S. government, American values also require the freedom of enterprise: Each company must decide where to do business on behalf of its customers, employees, and investors.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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