An “Internet Freedom Policy” may seem like an oxymoron to some, but the Obama administration has reportedly been working carefully for the past year to declare an official stance on how the United States will deal with those who seek to stifle, censor, or otherwise control the Internet’s free flow of information.
Current events in Tunisia, Egypt, Cuba, and Iran have made a clear US response especially crucial at this time, though some critics believe the State Department’s officially delivered viewpoint is in sharp contrast to its actions, such as the way it is dealing with the controversy over WikiLeaks. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech at George Washington University today, addressed this issue by saying that publication of official documents on WikiLeaks constituted an “act of theft” and was therefore not subject to any protections offered by an Internet Freedom Policy.
Another criticism that’s been leveled at the Internet Freedom Policy is that it just hasn’t come fast enough. $30 million of Congressional funding could have sooner been used to develop ways for dissidents to better circumvent restrictions placed on the Internet by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime in 2009. Instead, say critics, the State Department’s dragging feet on the details of policy allowed the regime to efficiently track and abolish resistance relatively quickly.
However timely (or not) the Internet Freedom Policy comes to us, the US has now officially declared that it is dedicated to the financing of programs designed to circumvent censorship-enforcing firewalls and training for human rights workers to keep email, cell phone, and other data private.
Along with naming governments that the United States views as hostile to the unfettered flow of information over the Internet, Clinton also targeted “violent extremists, criminal cartels,” and “sexual predators” as enemies to be reckoned with.
The Internet is used by “nearly a third of humankind,” said Clinton, and protecting an Internet — “a great equalizer” — that is essential for developing nations to further their economic, educational, and social well-being is an imperative, top priority for the United States.
“Once you’re on the Internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society,” Clinton said.