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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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January 21, 2010

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.]

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