On January 21, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered her “Remarks on Internet Freedom” at the Newseum in Washington, DC. I badly wanted to blog the speech, which enshrined Freedom to Connect as official U.S. foreign policy, but I was at the FCC at the time as part of the National Broadband Plan Team, and as a result I was voluntarily refraining from blogging. Today, the speech takes additional importance in the light of current events, so I quote some of the more relevant passages here:
On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.
Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. Now, at the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the troubles of his day.
As I speak to you today, government censors somewhere are working furiously to erase my words from the records of history. But history itself has already condemned these tactics.
Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world.
The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I’ve already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. 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.
Now, pursuing the freedoms I’ve talked about today is, I believe, the right thing to do. But I also believe it’s the smart thing to do. By advancing this agenda, we align our principles, our economic goals, and our strategic priorities. We need to work toward a world in which access to networks and information brings people closer together and expands the definition of the global community. Given the magnitude of the challenges we’re facing, we need people around the world to pool their knowledge and creativity to help rebuild the global economy, to protect our environment, to defeat violent extremism, and build a future in which every human being can live up to and realize his or her God-given potential.
Secretary Clinton’s speech is long and deeply nuanced. But it clearly comes down on the side of openness, against censorship and Internet balkanization. It is my fervent hope that the U.S. Government continues to remember the Secretary’s wise, long view in light of current events.