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January 24, 2010

Freedom to Connect

On an etymological note, I believe there’s good reason to believe that the phrase “freedom to connect” that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used in her speech on Internet Freedom ultimately came from David Isenberg. It might, of course, simply be an independent coinage, but David has run a conference by that name for several years, and lots of people now connected to the Obama administration either have attended, or know David or people who have attended. For example, in 2008, Alec Ross was on a panel. Alec is the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Innovation and reports to Sect’y Clinton. I would imagine that Alec was involved in Sect’y Clinton’s Internet Freedom event and the drafting of the speech.

With my usual prescience, I gave a talk at one of the Freedom to Connect conferences saying that “right to connect” would be a better phrase because rights imply corresponding duties. That is, if we have the freedom to connect, then the government can’t stop us. But, if we have the right to connect, then the government has a duty to help us connect, by (for example) making sure we all have access to the Internet. As it turns out, David’s sense of the workable phrase — the one that would catch on — was miles ahead of mine.

Meanwhile, in support of my resolution to be an even bigger a-hole, here’s a link to an interview immediately after Hillary Clinton’s speech, in which I manage to confuse FDR’s Four Freedom’s with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and possibly with the Four Teletubbies. (Also, for the record, the video labels me as a Harvard Professor. I’m not. I’m a “senior researcher” at the Berkman Center; being a professor is a much bigger deal. And while I’m speaking for the record, I am not a philosopher either. That, too, is a far bigger deal than the sort of writing I do.)

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