"Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges in a Networked World"

More:Fact Sheet on Internet Freedom

Today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a speech on "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges in a Networked World" at George Washington University. The Secretary said:

"The internet has become the public space of the 21st century -- the world's town square, classroom, marketplace, coffeehouse, and nightclub. We all shape and are shaped by what happens there, all 2 billion of us and counting. And that presents a challenge. To maintain an internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that will guide us, what rules exist and should not exist and why, what behaviors should be encouraged or discouraged and how.

"The goal is not to tell people how to use the internet any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public square, whether it's Tahrir Square or Times Square. The value of these spaces derives from the variety of activities people can pursue in them, from holding a rally to selling their vegetables, to having a private conversation. These spaces provide an open platform, and so does the internet. It does not serve any particular agenda, and it never should. But if people around the world are going come together every day online and have a safe and productive experience, we need a shared vision to guide us.

"One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision by calling for a global commitment to internet freedom, to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs -- these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.

"Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I've called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same. Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom. We also support expanding the number of people who have access to the internet. And because the internet must work evenly and reliably for it to have value, we support the multi-stakeholder system that governs the internet today, which has consistently kept it up and running through all manner of interruptions across networks, borders, and regions.

"In the year since my speech, people worldwide have continued to use the internet to solve shared problems and expose public corruption, from the people in Russia who tracked wildfires online and organized a volunteer firefighting squad, to the children in Syria who used Facebook to reveal abuse by their teachers, to the internet campaign in China that helps parents find their missing children.

"At the same time, the internet continues to be restrained in a myriad of ways. In China, the government censors content and redirects search requests to error pages. In Burma, independent news sites have been taken down with distributed denial of service attacks. In Cuba, the government is trying to create a national intranet, while not allowing their citizens to access the global internet. In Vietnam, bloggers who criticize the government are arrested and abused. In Iran, the authorities block opposition and media websites, target social media, and steal identifying information about their own people in order to hunt them down.

"These actions reflect a landscape that is complex and combustible, and sure to become more so in the coming years as billions of more people connect to the internet. The choices we make today will determine what the internet looks like in the future. Businesses have to choose whether and how to enter markets where internet freedom is limited. People have to choose how to act online, what information to share and with whom, which ideas to voice and how to voice them. Governments have to choose to live up to their commitments to protect free expression, assembly, and association.

"For the United States, the choice is clear. On the spectrum of internet freedom, we place ourselves on the side of openness. Now, we recognize that an open internet comes with challenges. It calls for ground rules to protect against wrongdoing and harm. And internet freedom raises tensions, like all freedoms do. But we believe the benefits far exceed the costs."

Secretary Clinton then addressed several of the challenges we must confront as we seek to protect and defend a free and open internet, including protecting both transparency and confidentiality. The Secretary said:

"...I know that government confidentiality has been a topic of debate during the past few months because of WikiLeaks, but it's been a false debate in many ways. Fundamentally, the WikiLeaks incident began with an act of theft. Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase. Some have suggested that this theft was justified because governments have a responsibility to conduct all of our work out in the open in the full view of our citizens. I respectfully disagree. The United States could neither provide for our citizens' security nor promote the cause of human rights and democracy around the world if we had to make public every step of our efforts. Confidential communication gives our government the opportunity to do work that could not be done otherwise.

"Consider our work with former Soviet states to secure loose nuclear material. By keeping the details confidential, we make it less likely that terrorists or criminals will find the nuclear material and steal it for their own purposes. Or consider the content of the documents that WikiLeaks made public. Without commenting on the authenticity of any particular documents, we can observe that many of the cables released by WikiLeaks relate to human rights work carried on around the world. Our diplomats closely collaborate with activists, journalists, and citizens to challenge the misdeeds of oppressive governments. It is dangerous work. By publishing diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks exposed people to even greater risk.

"For operations like these, confidentiality is essential, especially in the internet age when dangerous information can be sent around the world with the click of a keystroke. But of course, governments also have a duty to be transparent. We govern with the consent of the people, and that consent must be informed to be meaningful. So we must be judicious about when we close off our work to the public, and we must review our standards frequently to make sure they are rigorous. In the United States, we have laws designed to ensure that the government makes its work open to the people, and the Obama Administration has also launched an unprecedented initiative to put government data online, to encourage citizen participation, and to generally increase the openness of government.

"The U.S. Government's ability to protect America, to secure the liberties of our people, and to support the rights and freedoms of others around the world depends on maintaining a balance between what's public and what should and must remain out of the public domain. The scale should and will always be tipped in favor of openness, but tipping the scale over completely serves no one's interests. Let me be clear. I said that the WikiLeaks incident began with a theft, just as if it had been executed by smuggling papers in a briefcase. The fact that WikiLeaks used the internet is not the reason we criticized its actions. WikiLeaks does not challenge our commitment to internet freedom.

"And one final word on this matter: There were reports in the days following these leaks that the United States Government intervened to coerce private companies to deny service to WikiLeaks. That is not the case. Now, some politicians and pundits publicly called for companies to disassociate from WikiLeaks, while others criticized them for doing so. Public officials are part of our country's public debates, but there is a line between expressing views and coercing conduct. Business decisions that private companies may have taken to enforce their own values or policies regarding WikiLeaks were not at the direction of the Obama Administration."

Secretary Clinton recognized the tensions and challenges in advancing liberty and security, transparency and confidentiality, freedom of expression and tolerance -- all of which comprise the foundation of a free, open, and secure society as well as a free, open, and secure internet where universal human rights are respected. She also recognized that some countries are trying a different approach, abridging rights online and working to erect permanent walls between different activities -- economic exchanges, political discussions, religious expressions, and social interactions. The Secretary said:

"I urge countries everywhere instead to join us in the bet we have made, a bet that an open internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries. At its core, it's an extension of the bet that the United States has been making for more than 200 years, that open societies give rise to the most lasting progress, that the rule of law is the firmest foundation for justice and peace, and that innovation thrives where ideas of all kinds are aired and explored. This is not a bet on computers or mobile phones. It's a bet on people. We're confident that together with those partners in government and people around the world who are making the same bet by hewing to universal rights that underpin open societies, we'll preserve the internet as an open space for all. And that will pay long-term gains for our shared progress and prosperity. The United States will continue to promote an internet where people's rights are protected and that it is open to innovation, interoperable all over the world, secure enough to hold people's trust, and reliable enough to support their work.

"In the past year, we have welcomed the emergence of a global coalition of countries, businesses, civil society groups, and digital activists seeking to advance these goals. We have found strong partners in several governments worldwide, and we've been encouraged by the work of the Global Network Initiative, which brings together companies, academics, and NGOs to work together to solve the challenges we are facing, like how to handle government requests for censorship or how to decide whether to sell technologies that could be used to violate rights or how to handle privacy issues in the context of cloud computing. We need strong corporate partners that have made principled, meaningful commitments to internet freedom as we work together to advance this common cause.

"We realize that in order to be meaningful, online freedoms must carry over into real-world activism. That's why we are working through our Civil Society 2.0 initiative to connect NGOs and advocates with technology and training that will magnify their impact. We are also committed to continuing our conversation with people everywhere around the world. Last week, you may have heard, we launched Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi, adding to the ones we already have in French and Spanish. We'll start similar ones in Chinese, Russian, and Hindi. This is enabling us to have real-time, two-way conversations with people wherever there is a connection that governments do not block.

"Our commitment to internet freedom is a commitment to the rights of people, and we are matching that with our actions. Monitoring and responding to threats to internet freedom has become part of the daily work of our diplomats and development experts. They are working to advance internet freedom on the ground at our embassies and missions around the world. The United States continues to help people in oppressive internet environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online.

"While the rights we seek to protect and support are clear, the various ways that these rights are violated are increasingly complex. I know some have criticized us for not pouring funding into a single technology, but we believe there is no silver bullet in the struggle against internet repression. There's no app for that. Start working, those of you out there. And accordingly, we are taking a comprehensive and innovative approach, one that matches our diplomacy with technology, secure distribution networks for tools, and direct support for those on the front lines.

"In the last three years, we have awarded more than $20 million in competitive grants through an open process, including interagency evaluation by technical and policy experts to support a burgeoning group of technologists and activists working at the cutting edge of the fight against internet repression. This year, we will award more than $25 million in additional funding. We are taking a venture capital-style approach, supporting a portfolio of technologies, tools, and training, and adapting as more users shift to mobile devices. We have our ear to the ground, talking to digital activists about where they need help, and our diversified approach means we're able to adapt the range of threats that they face. We support multiple tools, so if repressive governments figure out how to target one, others are available. And we invest in the cutting edge because we know that repressive governments are constantly innovating their methods of oppression and we intend to stay ahead of them.

"Likewise, we are leading the push to strengthen cyber security and online innovation, building capacity in developing countries, championing open and interoperable standards and enhancing international cooperation to respond to cyber threats. Deputy Secretary of Defense Lynn gave a speech on this issue just yesterday. All these efforts build on a decade of work to sustain an internet that is open, secure, and reliable. And in the coming year, the Administration will complete an international strategy for cyberspace, charting the course to continue this work into the future.

"This is a foreign policy priority for us, one that will only increase in importance in the coming years. That's why I've created the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, to enhance our work on cyber security and other issues and facilitate cooperation across the State Department and with other government agencies. I've named Christopher Painter, formerly senior director for cyber security at the National Security Council and a leader in the field for 20 years, to head this new office.

"The dramatic increase in internet users during the past 10 years has been remarkable to witness. But that was just the opening act. In the next 20 years, nearly 5 billion people will join the network. It is those users who will decide the future.

"So we are playing for the long game. Unlike much of what happens online, progress on this front will be measured in years, not seconds. The course we chart today will determine whether those who follow us will get the chance to experience the freedom, security, and prosperity of an open internet.

"As we look ahead, let us remember that internet freedom isn't about any one particular activity online. It's about ensuring that the internet remains a space where activities of all kinds can take place, from grand, ground-breaking, historic campaigns to the small, ordinary acts that people engage in every day.

"We want to keep the internet open for the protestor using social media to organize a march in Egypt; the college student emailing her family photos of her semester abroad; the lawyer in Vietnam blogging to expose corruption; the teenager in the United States who is bullied and finds words of support online; for the small business owner in Kenya using mobile banking to manage her profits; the philosopher in China reading academic journals for her dissertation; the scientist in Brazil sharing data in real time with colleagues overseas; and the billions and billions of interactions with the internet every single day as people communicate with loved ones, follow the news, do their jobs, and participate in the debates shaping their world.

"Internet freedom is about defending the space in which all these things occur so that it remains not just for the students here today, but your successors and all who come after you. This is one of the grand challenges of our time. We are engaged in a vigorous effort against those who we have always stood against, who wish to stifle and repress, to come forward with their version of reality and to accept none other. We enlist your help on behalf of this struggle. It's a struggle for human rights, it's a struggle for human freedom, and it's a struggle for human dignity."

Read the Secretary's full remarks here.



February 15, 2011

Victoria S. writes:


District Of Columbia, USA
February 15, 2011

Shayan in Washington, DC writes:

When Secretary Clinton said "Iran is awful," Iranians would appreciate if she made the subtle yet important distinction that the Iranian government is horrible, while the people are obviously quite brave and seek freedom.

Thank you for your support of Iranian efforts to gain democracy!

February 15, 2011

Michalis in Cyprus writes:

I am working on a project that you might be interested.

Actually, not might, but for sure.

Contact me please.

Thank you.

North Carolina, USA
February 15, 2011

Kate in North Carolina writes:

Hypocracy Watch: how can you preach about universal human rights when the US is the only country - other than Somalia - to fail to ratify the UN Convention on thr Rights of the Child?

California, USA
February 15, 2011

Philip in California writes:

Thoughtful, intelligent and heartfelt speech!

Hillary rocks!!

Just wish there had been video of the speech!!!

Thanks madame secretary for representing all so well!!!!

DipNote Bloggers write:

@ Philip -- Thanks for your comments! Video of Secretary Clinton's remarks will be available on DipNote, state.gov, and YouTube soon.

Patricia M.
California, USA
February 15, 2011

Patricia M. in California writes:

A few years ago at a meeting in Menlo Park I made the comment to Secretary Clinton that Google was a play toy in comparison to what the Internet could and would be. Now we are finally seeing it in the geopolitical arena. Next we have to harness its ability to help with the spiraling costs of medical care. I applaud the State Department's efforts in keeping the Internet open and free.

K. D.
New Hampshire, USA
February 15, 2011

K.D. in New Hampshire writes:

@ Kate in North Carolina,

Perhaps hypocrisy is not the correct term to be used. Secretary Clinton's speech concerns specifically the universal "freedom to connect," whereas the Convention on the Rights of the Child primarily deals with non-discrimination.

New Mexico, USA
February 16, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

To Sec. of State Clinton,

When you compare open space with ether space on the net, would you perhaps attempt to take from open skies agreements to model an open internet accord among nations?

Our military invented the internet, I can't believe they didn't think at the time it might just open up repressive governments like a can of beans, and one might consider the internet now to be a "weapon of mass introspection" in some ways.

As a tool the internet is like any other, it's all in how one uses it, and my only comment pushing back, is that yes indeed we can tell folks how to use the internet, and we should help folks learn how to use it so they can use it to help educate themselves about anything on thier mind, any place, any time.

As a tool for development assistance, you have a classroom in a box. No rural village should be without its "internet hut".

I figure if folks can come up with a worm that will spin enrichment centerfuges beyond their test limits without the opperators knowing, then it should be possible to pry open servers without a repressive regime knowing about it, until the're on candid cell-phone camera in a quick glabal minute. And then it's too late.

In regartds to Iran the US is put in a position of having the capacity to "level the playing feild" for the people to have voice unbound by government shutdown of communications, and having the stated policy of that of lending "moral support" as the President put it recently in a press conference.

So what's the morally correct thing to do but side with the people as we support states, not governments. If the people comprise the state, then to support the state the playing field must be leveled under hostile circumstance, to enable the will of the people being the embodiment of the will of the state, not its government which only makes claims of representation of same.

The subjects of the theocratic totalitarian stystem of government that claims not to hear their cries in protest of the Iranian people, only to call them "corrupt of earth", take the position that to give voice to dissenting thought against the government of Iran is to war aganst Allah, that one who participates in such activity is unclean and should be purged from the face of the Earth.

In fact Iranian parlimentarians are calling for members of their own population to be put to death on State TV.

Now if this isn't public advocation of a genocidal mindset upon one's own people by a government, then you need to find some different international lawyers to define that for you than you have working for this government of ours presently.

I'm willing to be that blunt about it publicly because doing so might just save some lives.

Thanks for listening, and your remarks on Iran were well chosen, though I tend to agree with Shayan in DC that under present circumstances, the protocol she suggests is valid in the isolation of the regime as not being representitive of Iran in any historical sense, nor of its people is habitually appropriate.

Look at this more as a 31 year abberation of bad governance on par with Hitler and you get just a hint of why she asked this of you for no taint to rub off on the people who are equally victim of that government's political stupidity and malice.

So just how long are the American people expected to put up with this, along with IEDs to the Taliban courtesy of the government of Iran, anyway?

As you might note here, I'm well beyond fed up. But I'm doing my best to make good use of my anger.

Which can be summed up in the wish that you put on some really sharp diplomatic pumps and step on the grand Ayatollah's political neck, and tap dance on Aminutijob's head.

I'm probably asking to little as such.

And I wouldn't try and interpret how the President might ask you to implement that feat, just that he should as the timing seems apropriate.

I wish it were a laughing matter.

I was just thinking that the annual expense the US Navy runs protecting the Persian Gulf from Iranian interferance of shipping or threats of closing Hormuz strait would just about close that 16% budget black hole that's looming on your fiscal calander.

Now if that isn't motivating to deal with a regional threat, then ask folks at Treasury how much they spend dealing with Iranian banksters trying to outwit sanctions...and we're trying to trim our budget to pay down on national debt?

Well then let's solve some problems in the world and we won't have to continue to spend big bucko's on them or lose people because they continue unabated.

That's your answer to Congress if I may say so.



Leroy O.
February 16, 2011

Leroy Peter O. writes:

Hi Hillary,

Quite a good speech, Keep it up, Let us save the cyber space from the unknown.

Best Rgds

Vic L.
Pennsylvania, USA
February 16, 2011

Vic L. in Pennsylvania writes:

Sec. of State Clinton laudably condemned gov't internet censorship yesterday. Apparently, Lockheed Martin, cyber-censor to U.S. Homeland-mil-intel, did not get the message. Once again my attempted comment to a New York Times web article was censored via re-directed "spoofed page" fraud and deception. Bottom line: American fascists within will not stop censoring until they are forced to respect the U.S. Constitution.


John T.
Idaho, USA
February 16, 2011

John T. in Idaho writes:

From Ms. Clintons remarks: We want to keep the internet open for the protestor using social media to organize a march in Egypt; the college student emailing her family photos of her semester abroad; the lawyer in Vietnam blogging to expose corruption; the teenager in the United States who is bullied and finds words of support online; for the small business owner in Kenya using mobile banking to manage her profits; the philosopher in China reading academic journals for her dissertation; the scientist in Brazil sharing data in real time with colleagues overseas; and the billions and billions of interactions with the internet every single day as people communicate with loved ones, follow the news, do their jobs, and participate in the debates shaping their world.


To this point, I spent 10 years from 1999-2009 supporting/providing internet reports from all over the world for the web site www.endurance.net. Our reports came/come in real time from Bahrain, UAE, Malaysia, China, Japan, Egypt, Europe, Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Africa, ... We required unrestricted net access as the 100 mile horse races took place. Most countries had various restrictions of service in place that made it impossible to get our news out to the endurance world.

So I asked my son to develop technology that would provide a secure, unblocked tunnel - for all services - no mater where I came into the net, I needed to find a way through to my servers. He came through and provided me with technology that I still use on my world travels.

All of the scenarios mentioned above by Sec. Clinton - as well as many others - are cleanly and easily available (along with privacy:) - he built on open source stacks and gave me a solid personalized virtual private network of equivalent service level as VPNs provided to corporate organizations. The difference being, it did not need expensive, dedicated infrastructure - rather it is a very personalized shared infrastructure solution.

The internet provides a the basic infrastructure to enable unfettered access - there are may ways to subvert net access. I would be happy to discuss with you ways we might encourage availability and ubiquitous access to the special services I have been using.

John T.
Chief Scientist
People Power Company

Dara K.
Michigan, USA
February 16, 2011

Dara K. in Michigan writes:

How can you give a speech about internet freedoms and the rights of the people while a peaceful protester is dragged out of the room. How dare you! Disgusting!!

Beatriz C.
February 16, 2011
California, USA
February 17, 2011

I. in California writes:

Please provide 3G like internet to Iran, they cut off the internet and phone service, with these tools the regime will fall...

Dave H.
Maryland, USA
February 17, 2011

Dave H. in Maryland writes:

After hearing the Secretary's speech, it reminded me of some of the ideas that Cass Sunstein, the White House information czar has put forth in regard to congnitive infiltration. Am I correct in my understanding of the plan for using the internet and social networking to bring rogue nations in line with the global agenda?

Does the State Department consider the homeland as being outside the realm of possible venues for such revolutions as they are supporting elsewhere? Between the control grid and Executive branch authority over the internet, maybe it's viewed as an unreasonable outcome. There are a lot of guys out there with pick-up trucks, guns and dogs. Americans aren't poor like Egyptians. Just look at those school teachers in Wisconsin. You can imagine if they were a slightly less educated group.

Mike G.
February 17, 2011

Mike G. in Australia writes:

An interesting thing happens at about 2:08 in the video. There is a commotion in the room and amongst the scuffling you can hear the words "is this America?" repeated twice. I've read that a 71 year old man was standing in silent protest with his back to Clinton. he was forcibly removed by security leaving him bruised and bleeding. All this while Clinton was promoting the right to free speech. email me if you want my address so you can come and get me too.

diet Y.
March 6, 2011

D. Yaekel writes:

I am writing to make you know of the amazing discovery my wife's princess had checking your web page. She even learned so many issues, including how it is like to possess a great giving heart to make certain people with no trouble know just exactly a variety of grueling subject matter. You actually exceeded people's desires. Thank you for rendering the necessary, healthy, educational as well as easy tips on that topic to Gloria.

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
February 15, 2011


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more