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Hillary Clinton’s Internet policy speech

First, my overall reaction to Hillary Clinton’s speech: It’s thrilling that a Secretary of State would claim “freedom to connect” as a basic human right. That’s a very big stake in the ground. Likewise, it’s sort of amazing that the State Department is funding the development of tools to help users circumvent government restrictions on access. On the negative side, it’s distressing (but not surprising) that the Secretary of State should come out against anonymity so we can track down copyright infringers. Of course, in response to a question she said that we have to strike a balance so that the anonymity of dissenters is protected even as the anonymity of file sharers is betrayed. I just don’t know how you do that. [THE NEXT DAY: I fixed a couple of typos in that paragraph.]

What follows are the notes I took during the presentation itself. They are, as always, rough livebloggage. Here’s a transcript of her prepared remarks.

I’m at the Newseum where Hillary Clinton is about to give a speech about Internet freedom. The venue is filled: an auditorium that seats a few hundred. HRC enters. (Joe Lieberman is smiling in the front row, damn his eyes.)

Her topic: How freedom applies to the Net. She thanks Richard Lugar and Joe “The Weasel” Lieberman for sponsoring some act that promotes Internet freedom. [I don’t know what she’s referring to, but somehow I bet I don’t like it.] She takes a moment to note the gravity of the situation in Haiti. Communications networks have played a crucial role in our relief efforts, she says. The State Dept. immediately set up the “text Haiti” program that has raised $25M.

The Internet is forming a new “nervous system,” she says. Information has never been more free, she says. The U.S. believes that open access to info enables citizens to hold their gov’ts accountability, increase innovation, etc. But the same tools are used to work against freedoms. The same networks that organize people for freedom also enable Al Qaeda to spew hatred, she says. The same tech can be used to suppress dissent. Chinese, Tunisia and Uzbekistan have stepped up their assault on Internet freedom, she says. We stand for a single Internet, open to all. [“Single Internet” is code for “Boo, China!” but should also be code for “Yay Net Neutrality!”] This is based on our belief in free speech. We need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles.

The users of the Net ought to be assured certain basic freedoms:

Freedom of expression. She hearkens back to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Net is this generation’s icon. Instead of a wall, it stands for connection. Some countries [=China] have expunged search results and have imprisoned people for non-violent expressions of beliefs. This violates the Declaration of Human Rights. Viral videos and blog posts are the samizdat of our day. E.g., Iran.

Then she exempts terrorist beliefs. And, in the next sentence, exempts those transmitting “stolen intellectual property.” And, she says, we must not allow anonymity to protect them. [What the what??]

HRC says she likes freedom of worship and the Net ought not to be censored on those grounds.

The Net can be used to advanced struggling economies. The Net and mobile phones can do for economic growth what the Green Rev did for agriculture. “Information networks have become a great leveler.” We should use them to lift people out of poverty.

But: Bad people use the Net for bad purposes. Terrorists, sexual predators, totalitarian gov’ts, child porn, slave trade. We need our networks to be secure, especially from evil organizations. We need more tools to allow law enforcement agencies to cooperate across boundaries. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyberattacks” should face consequences. We need to protect the “cyber information commons.” [Cool phrase to hear a Sect’y of State utter]

We should all have a freedom to a connect: To connect to the Internet, Web sites, or one another. It is like the freedom to assemble.

We can use the Net to help ensure Net freedoms.

How to apply this in practice:

The U.S. is ready to spend what we need to in order to advance these freedoms.

We need 21st Century statecraft, as they say at the State Dept.

We’re including Net freedom in what we’re proposing to the UN Human Rights Council.

We are funding groups to make sure that Net tools get to people who need them to so they can be used in rights-challenged countries. We are committed to providing tools and training to people in countries where the Net is under political censorship. Announcement: Partnerships to provide tools to empower citizens. Also, an innovation contest. She talks about a State group that has been working on this, including in Mexico and Pakistan.

“Information freedom” is not just good policy, but it’s a universal value and good for business.

She calls on China to look into the violations that caused Google to threaten to withdraw. Countries that censor risk “walling themselves off” from progreess.

Will we live with one Internet, one body of knowledge, one community? Or will what you see depend on what your censors let you? Asymmetric access to info leads to global instability.

Consumers want to rely that their Internet providers are giving them open, uncensored access. Those who lose that confidence will lose customers. [Unless there are monopolies.] We need to be confident that what we do on the NEt won’t be used against us. [Hence we need anonymity.] We are reinvigorating the Internet Freedom Task Force. The private sector has a shared responsibility to safeguard Internet freedom.

HRC also likes the Global Network Initiative, a consortium that establishes mechanisms sfor transparency and accountability. The State Dept. is having a conference next month.

Q: But we need anonymity to enable free speech in repressive regimes.
A: We have to strike a balance.

Q: But business is in it for the money.
A: Open Net is in the long term interest of business.

A: If a gov’t disaagrees with what a blogger is saying, get into the discussion.

A: We are expanding our outreach to Muslim youth.

[Now there’s a panel discussion, but I’m not going to live blog it.]

20 Responses to “Hillary Clinton’s Internet policy speech”

  1. Hmmm…. What I think I’m hearing here is, “the Internet should provide all the capabilities for civil engagement, universal connection, and freedom of speech that we, in our exclusive opinion as the (partisan and continually lobbied) Government, deem appropriate.”

    Dangerous stuff. The wired wolf in EFF clothing.


    “When I speak about censorware, I often try to impress on people that technical architectures are different from personal values. That is, if parents can limit what teenagers can see, then governments can limit what citizens see. And the other side is if citizens can circumvent governments, teenagers will be able to circumvent parents.”

  3. Thankyou for the excellent notes.

    One small point: Lieberman’s been doing great work on open access for years. Most recently he’s co-sponsored the Federal Research Public Access Act, mandating free public access to a huge swathe of US government research.

    Do a Google search on “ Lieberman” for a sample of Lieberman’s longstanding work on open access. The site is your Berkman colleague Peter Suber’s “Open Access News”.

  4. […] Hillary Clinton’s Internet policy speech […]

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  10. Thank you for the notes – a question is, will the divide between the world that googles and that which does not make Google what blue jeans and rock and roll was to the Eastern Bloc during the cold war? Are nerd norms now the West’s highest paragon? Just wrote on this at

  11. […] Hillary Clinton’s Internet policy speech […]

  12. […] a podium for her unique Kanye-esque blend of Fuck You and Pay Me (explained).  Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger have offered their two cents on her Cold […]

  13. This is own thought about interner speed. This time it’s speed is best. Evey people use interner normaly
    bpo/kpo process

  14. Seems all this boils down to freedom on someone else’s terms. Who deems just what is good/bad/dangerous/patriotic/evil/etc.?
    One free internet, open to all.

  15. […] * David Weinberger reacts to Hillary Clinton’s Internet speech… […]

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  17. This is a struggle that may go on for a long time; fine turning the balance of freedoms and safety.

    All I can say is, we need to continue to battle but put more focus on our kids. They are in danger in this. I website recommend to learn more:

  18. There’s a subtle difference between freedom and liberty, that eludes far too many people. Freedom is being able to do absolutely anything. Liberty is ethical freedom, i.e. with government enforced repercussions (to protect all people). In other words, freedom of speech means you should be able to communicate freely, uncensored. Liberty means that certain classes of speech are prohibited (those that endanger life, compromise someone’s privacy, or impair the truth). Speech that infringes someone’s privilege (of a monopoly) should not be prohibited (copyright is unethical).

    What the framers of the constitution didn’t realise is that language evolves (and is warped to suit powerful interests). Just as ‘right’ has evolved from its original meaning of natural right, into any right whether natural or granted by legislation, so freedom risks being defined by Clinton to mean ‘actions permitted by the state’. Freedom ALWAYS means anything. It is only liberty that is qualified, and even then it is freedom with consequences, not prevention.

    Censorship=prevention. Prohibition=consequences.

    Anyway, you’ve got to see the writing on the wall when the individual’s natural right to privacy is sacrificed to police the unnatural privilege of a corporation’s monopoly. Copyright already represents the suspension of the individual’s natural right to copy (that is included within their right to liberty), so suspending the natural right to privacy as another favour to publishing corporations let’s you know what entity the government is now representing. It’s no longer the people, but the immortal corporations that fund it.

    A consequence of using the term ‘right’ (contraction of ‘legally granted right’) for ‘privilege’ is that people become used to the idea that they aren’t born with rights, but are granted a few at the state’s pleasure, and that these rights can easily be withdrawn or adjusted in order to prevent interference with the business of powerful corporations.

    Language changes. That means that ‘rights’ change, from an inalienable something that all people are born with in equal measure, to whatever the government deems prudent. It also means that ‘freedom’ can change from ‘anything’ to ‘anything legal’. I wouldn’t be surprised if corporations ascend as ‘the people’ and human beings descend to ’employees’.

    If you can change the language you can do anything.

    Orwell was probably not so much prescient as fully informed as to what was predictable and inevitable.


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