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Friday, January 22, 2010

Clinton's Internet Freedom address

I had the opportunity to attend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policy address on Internet freedom yesterday, and wanted to share a few of my notes. In her talk she identified several basic rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of worship, and freedom to connect with others (a digital update of assembly), that should be afforded to all people, and observed that fostering and sustaining free, secure, and reliable networks around the world is a priority for this administration.

With this goal in mind, she announced several initiatives that the State Department is spearheading. First, Clinton said that the US will be funding the development and deployment of tools for circumventing censorship. There were some comments during the post-address panel suggesting that this strategy may already be in play, but it certainly appears to be a more public endorsement than has been previously offered. Second, the State Department plans to begin funding partners in industry and academia to design and build software that can be used to empower citizen. She gave the example of a mobile phone application that would allow citizens to rate ministries in terms of responsiveness and corruption. Third, she announced an innovation competition that seeks to identify technologies that effectively connect people to services that they need. Winners will be awarded grants to facilitate building these technologies on a large scale. Fourth, she urged US companies to take an active role in challenging censorship requests from other states. Google’s recent decision to either remove restrictions on the results produce by its China-based search engine or to pull out of China, announced just a few days prior, is an obvious example. (And Yahoo’s decision to hand over emails and other information about Chinese dissidents back in 2005 is an obvious example of what the US would like to avoid.) Clinton also alluded to the recent cyber-attacks originating in China against Google and other technology firms, and said that the US wants the Chinese government to pursue a full and transparent investigation into the sources of these attacks.

One interesting omission, in my view, was any discussion of how the US will respond should it become evident that attacks on US-owned network infrastructure located abroad were actually state sponsored. Presumably this is because such action could constitute cyber-warfare, and the State Department does not want this particular hypothetical to distract from the broader emphasis on global Internet freedom.

Given the specific funding opportunities identified during the speech, CATS members may want to discuss whether we could play any role in these types of projects. We would certainly need to collaborate with people in other fields, e.g., computer science, but I expect that our expertise could be valuable.

Obviously, this is only a partial summary of the speech. More information is available online.

A transcript is available courtesy of Foreign Policy magazine:

A video of the speech is available on YouTube.

The Chinese government has already responded critically to Clinton’s address.

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