Freedom Online—Preserving an Open Internet

Today in the Netherlands, 23 countries from every region in the world, including the United States, have come together with technology corporations and civil society organizations to make tangible progress on Internet freedom.

First, the governments gathered here today committed ourselves to common action to protect free expression, assembly and association in the Digital Age. This includes cooperation to advance internet freedom in our diplomacy with individual countries as well as multilateral forums. Second, we agreed to expand global support for cyber activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in repressive environments, including through a new Digital Defenders partnership that would provide support, including financial, to embattled digital activists and civil society organizations. Finally, we are engaging with Internet and technology corporations on how their technologies and their corporate policies can play a positive and proactive role in respecting the exercise of fundamental human rights.

These very practical initiatives are putting our commitment to Internet freedom into action on a global stage. In Secretary Clinton’s three landmark speeches on Internet freedom, she has laid out a far reaching vision for the future of Internet freedom. The State Department has made Internet freedom a daily priority of U.S. diplomacy with foreign governments, and in our relationships with civil society and corporations. And since 2008, the United States has committed over $70 million for grants and programming to support Internet freedom. Today’s conference advances international collaboration to support universal freedoms of expression, association and assembly. This event, and the wide cross-regional attendance it included, shows that Internet freedom isn’t just a priority for individual countries — it is now a global priority.

As Secretary Clinton said last night, “The right to express one’s views, practice one’s faith, peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change — these are all rights to which all human beings are entitled, whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an Internet chat room. And just as we have worked together since the last century to secure these rights in the material world, we must work together in this century to secure them in cyberspace. This is an urgent task.”

Unfortunately, Internet freedom is increasingly under threat in many places. Repressive regimes understand the power of new technologies, and increasingly try to control them. Some governments are using advanced technologies to chill free expression, to stifle dissent and to monitor and persecute peaceful activists online and offline. Some are exerting expansive state control over content, over users, over companies, and over the infrastructure of the Internet. And they’re trying to change national and international legal standards to legitimize a digital police state.

These trends are reinforced by the development of a largely unregulated private market in surveillance and monitoring technology, which is very happy to supply repressive governments with the tools they need to control expression and communication among their people.

To meet these challenges, governments that support Internet freedom are starting to work together and push back. But we can’t do it alone — we will need help from citizens, corporations and global civil society for what is likely to be a long, tough struggle with regimes that do not share our values or our views on the merits of openness. Today’s conference is a big step forward.

See additional resources about the Department’s engagement on internet freedom.

Cross-posted from the Department of State’s DipNote blog

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