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Conversations With America: The State Department’s Internet Freedom Strategy

MR. CROWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Department of State in Washington, DC. I’m P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. And thank you for joining us for another version of Conversations With America, where we talk about some of the most significant diplomatic and development and international issues of the day.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an important speech on internet freedom. And here to join us today we have Mike Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Welcome.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Pleasure to be here.

MR. CROWLEY: And we have Leslie Harris, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Welcome.

MS. HARRIS: That’s right. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: So, I should start off by just saying what do we mean by internet freedom, and why is it important in light of recent events, particularly in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, the subject of internet freedom for us is about an open media, open internet. We put ourselves on the side of free speech, free expression, free assembly, free association. And in today’s world, the new means of electronic communications give people a greater ability to talk among themselves within a country and to speak to the world. So we’re putting our money behind, and our diplomatic power behind, the notion that a free, open, neutral internet across borders in the world’s interest.

MR. CROWLEY: Unless they – obviously, what we see with what happened in Egypt is both the opportunity that technology represents but also the danger in terms of how that technology can be employed by states as well as individuals.

MS. HARRIS: So, certainly, there’s that danger from states. But on balance, if we’re able to build out a model of the internet that supports openness, that supports innovation, that supports freedom, we’re building the underpinnings of not just democracy but economic growth and personal empowerment around the world. So I don’t think that countries ought to be afraid of the internet, or individuals afraid of the internet, because either – of its potential to be a double-edged sword or the fact that, once you open up a medium, there’s good things that happen and bad things. And we’ve got to move forward on this. I think the United States , Western Europe, countries who have adopted an internet that is basically open for innovation and for business have been transformed and done well. The challenge now is that we have counter-models open for the economic growth and not open for political discussion, personal empowerment, and democracy-building. I think the role for the United States and, frankly, the role for other democracies who have embraced the internet is to make sure that, as the next three billion people come online, that at the end of the day it’s our vision of the internet that we prevails.

MR. CROWLEY: Michael, probably the – picking up on what has happened here with a transformation in Tunisia, in Egypt, how do you interpret the role that the internet or social media have played in the events that we’ve seen over the past few weeks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: A couple of things. One is, in a place like Egypt or Tunisia, the governments had lessened the space for people to organize, to operate, to communicate, to form organizations and have public meetings. So the internet became the town square, the place that they could – people could actually work with one another, communicate, and begin to build a social movement. What we saw in both places is that people – young people, in particular – view the communications via the internet, by mobile phones, as a way to basically organize and form an alternative set of power.

MR. CROWLEY: And we’ve seen that governments have recognized the potential and the power that these tools represent. Now they – in the case of Egypt, they actually literally were able to shut down the entire internet, but it didn’t stop the protests.

ASSISTANT SECRETRY POSNER: Yeah, because this is ultimately about people; it’s not just about technology. People in these societies were – have been and are frustrated by years of not being – having democratic societies, having the ability to participate in their countries’ political life. So they were determined to change. The technology gave them tools to make that process happen faster. And it’s interesting; when the Government of Egypt said we’re going to shut down the internet, they only could do it for a few days because the internet is now an essential tool of commerce, of – it’s essential for every aspect of a modern society. You can’t live without it. And so they essentially had, at some point, to say we’ve got to put it up and running or our whole country’s going to fall apart.

MS. HARRIS: I think that’s really right. There’s this concern about shutting down the internet. And what happened in Egypt was absolutely unprecedented, and I’m not sure that people understand that. There’s enormous blocking of content going on in non-democratic countries. We’ve had sort of sporadic blocking of Facebook or Twitter in – during the Green Revolution in Iran. We’ve had some activities in – I continue to call it Burma – but we have –

ASSISTNANT SECRETARY POSNER: Me too. (Laughter.)

MS. HARRIS: But we have not had this sort of disappearing of the Egyptian country code off of what’s essentially a highly interconnected system. At the end of the day, it was extraordinarily self-defeating, because it just added more flames to the fire of what was going on in terms of the democracy groups, and it was too late. It was really fascinating, because – the Assistant Secretary is correct – it is about people, and the people had already gotten themselves organized.

But it also just destroyed the economy for three days, and I think there’s a lot of lessons that need to be looked at coming out of that Egyptian experience, and I think one question is whether or not the non-free countries will look at that as a solution or they will be more reluctant. And I don’t know the answer to that.

MR. CROWLEY: What was the situation in Egypt prior to January 25? How much penetration had social media and the internet occurred in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, we – I was there, actually, a couple of times in 2010 early in the year in January and then in October. And there – we saw throughout the year a growing number of bloggers who were out there raising a range of concerns about torture, about a lot of subjects that had been taboo. The government was cracking down on some of them. I met one guy who had been arrested several times precisely because he was a blogger and people were paying attention. So you could see that the energy was growing around the use of these new technologies to get information out, and the government didn’t quite know how to respond other than to crack down on individuals.

But at a certain point, they lost control of that and many more people started to blog, and these organizations like the April 6 movement began to use the internet as a tool to communicate not only with a small group, but with an increasingly broad group of Egyptian society.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, it’s a fascinating example, because Egypt had not really moved to a highly censored, controlled internet like some countries. They controlled what was happening by prosecutions at the top level, going after bloggers. But people were very discouraged. One of my colleagues was there a couple of weeks before doing some training on internet policy, because ultimately, as these countries change – and I hope we get some opportunity as – with the new Egypt – you have to put the policies in place that support freedom. And they were very dispirited and did not believe that they really had that much power, not withstanding that they all had access to the internet. So to see that transformation happen in a matter of weeks, I think, was extraordinary.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, what should some of those policies be?

MS. HARRIS: Well, policy on the internet starts at a layer that most of us don’t understand and don’t care to. It starts at a standards level, it goes to what rules do we impose on internet service providers, are we going to make them liable for the content that comes over their networks? We don’t do that in the United States. We have a lot of voluntary compliance, voluntary good acting. The same at the applications level; we have strong protections for intermediaries.

We – in this country, we don’t license at the various levels. Other countries do, but you have licensing schemes that turn the entities into basically arms of the government – big, big problem with how Egypt is set up and how those companies had to respond given how they are licensed in that country.

So all the way up to the questions of basic free speech, criminal libel, how much free speech you have – you have to look at these policies, you have to look at the surveillance policies, the surveillance technology mandates. We’re struggling with a lot of the same questions here, and we’ve had hearings in the United States’ Congress this week on some of the same questions.

We have to be very careful, because as Secretary Clinton said in her speech, we do have these big questions – security, freedom, copyright ownership, free flow of information, confidentiality. But now that the United States is out there as much as it is on internet freedom, we have an additional obligation when we’re adopting our own policies that may work here, because we are in a rule-of-law country, to understand what the broader implications could be. And as a country like Egypt, I hope starts afresh, we need to be constantly the role model for struggling with these difficult concerns and coming down, as the Secretary said, on the side of openness.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, there are tensions here. Just as ordinary people use social media to communicate, so do bad actors, terrorists, and so forth. How do we try to balance off the openness, the – having the internet as a true public square, and yet provide sufficient oversight so the government can understand what is being done and try to perhaps stop the internet from being used as a destructive force, even as you encourage it to be used as an empowering force?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think we have to go back to our first principles. We believe in free speech, but we have limits on speech. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. We have concerns about speech that immediately incites violence. So we are – we have rules about pornography and keeping pornography out of the public domain for children, for example. We have to be very mindful that this is – we’ve sort of amplified some of those discussions because of the power of this medium.

But it’s the same discussion. We need to be aware of the challenges, and that – one of the things, I think, Secretary Clinton did this week was to say we stand on the side of openness, but we’re doing this with our eyes open, and we are, in fact, going to be responsible in the way we deal with national security issues, with law enforcement. We’re not going to pretend those things don’t exist, but we’re going to always lean on the side of as much openness as possible and trying to have a neutral venue, a forum, a platform where people can communicate openly. For political purposes, for innovation, for education, for trade, we’re going to try to keep the platform open and neutral.

MS. HARRIS: And we’re not there yet. We are a beacon and we’re not there yet. Obviously, the answer to some of these bad actor questions is we don’t disappear law enforcement out of the equation when we move to the internet.

But in the United States, we’re operating on laws about the government’s access to information online that never – that did not anticipate the environment we’re in now. So if you store something on your computer or in your desk, you have Fourth Amendment protections. For the most part, all that we’re storing online is subject to very low legal standards. So we need to take some actions here to raise the bar, even when we’re talking about these challenges, or we will find ourselves, not in a position to be able to go to the rest of the world and tell them that we have the answers.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: One of the things, P.J., last year, Secretary gave a speech on the same subject at the Newseum about a year ago. And it was sort of a clarion call. It was saying this is a big subject, we’re going to be involved, we’re going to play a leadership role.

The speech this week was a more reflective speech saying, okay, we’ve got a year evaluation of this and we recognize that there are all these challenges, these contradictions, if you will. And we’re going to take those things seriously, but we’re going to redouble our efforts to be leaders on this notion of an open internet. So I think it’s an important speech both because it is such a clear call to leadership for us, but at the same time it’s a recognition of the challenges we face.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but is this a case – and how do you balance legitimate, sovereign interests a state might have versus coming up with a standard that is more global? Who will ultimately set the rules of the road?

MS. HARRIS: This is, I think, the biggest challenge for the internet going forward. For the first period of time, it was principally an American creation and it was easier to figure that out. We’re now in an environment, we’ve got – I don’t remember the figures exactly – 2 billion online and perhaps 3 billion to go, and therefore, the challenge is completely different. We operate in an environment where when you put data in the cloud, it could actually be in – anywhere in the world.

So our traditional questions of jurisdiction that the Assistant Secretary and I learned in law school a long time ago – (laughter) – absolutely don’t fit this environment. Questions of which government should have access to the information, which privacy law ought to apply, are enormous challenges. And we have to figure out some kind of global governance bodies that don’t force us into a race to the bottom. There are some calls around the world for governance bodies, like the UN, where we would be negotiating what works on the internet or what ought to work with countries who have very, very different values.

I’m hoping that in the first instance, that we can reach agreement with other democratic governments on what we believe the right policy principles are, so that we can start demonstrating the way that the Internet should be governed cross borders. But the questions of who should manage the internet in a global environment is the thorniest andthe biggest challenge. I know from my organization, we’ve spent 17 years on the 1 and 2.0 versions of this governance question, and now we have to confront this 3.0 question

MR. CROWLEY: I know we’ll come back to that issue as we take some questions from our viewers.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, sure.

MR. CROWLEY: But the Secretary in her speech did start and focus on Egypt, but she also mentioned a number of other countries where perhaps they haven’t hit the kill switch entirely, but they certainly, in the case of a China or a Vietnam or a Burma or others, are restricting access to the internet and access to information. What’s been our experience in those countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, I think one experience is that we have to – there’s not a one size fits all response to this. Different countries do this in different ways. The Chinese, for example, employ a number of people monitoring what’s out there and taking it down. In the last few days, we’ve seen the word Egypt and the words Hillary Clinton have disappeared from the internet in Egypt – in China. And so that takes a lot of doing in a country with a billion, three hundred million people. I don’t think that’s sustainable.

But we have to be, I think, creative, innovative. We’ve got to use technology, and we’ve got to be responsive to people who are trying in each of these countries to figure out both have to navigate around the restrictions on content and at the same time protect their own personal privacy. What we’ve seen in a lot of countries is that countries – China, again, would be an example, there are many more – governments use technology, use the internet, to put out false information, to dissemble information and also to go after people by taking their own personal information and using it for their own security purposes.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, China reacted to the Secretary’s speech relatively negatively. By the same token, don’t they have a growing number of bloggers who are – and to what extent are they able to find a way to stay connected despite the government’s efforts?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: History is on our side here. This is – in the long term, we’re betting on openness, and we’re betting on a neutral platform where lots of stuff is out there. Some of it we’re going to like; some of it we’re not going to like. But we’re believing that more free speech, more association is in our national interest and the world’s national interest. The Chinese are betting that they can have an internet that deals with economy and things that they’re prepared to talk about, but they’re not going to have that more robust, open discussion. I think that they can’t sustain that.

MR. CROWLEY: Just by the nature of the name of your organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, can technology make societies more democratic in the long run?

MS. HARRIS: Well, I agree with the Secretary. People make countries more democratic in the long run. . Assuming more and people come online and participate, it is very, very difficult to control —- I agree with the assistant secretary. I’m betting on the side of the people, when we’re talking about – I think the numbers are staggering about how many blogs, micro blogs, et cetera exist, staggering numbers. There is no way that technology is going to defeat that over the long run.

The challenge for the United States and for free countries is that we have now these two models of the internet. We have the Chinese model that says we can have economic growth and prosperity because of this new technology and somehow put the political situation aside, and then we have our system. We ought to be using trade, diplomacy, aid all around the world, all the tools that are at our disposal, to make sure that it’s our vision and not the Chinese one that prevails.

MR. CROWLEY: And what do we do in terms of providing support to try to keep people – ensure they have access to the – to these technologies, and, if necessary, try to defeat some of the walls that other countries put up.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, Congress has generously appropriated funds. We’ve spent about $20 million to date. We have a $30 million appropriation. We’re now getting the money out. And what we’re looking at is really three things: trying to circumvent the controls that the Chinese and others put on content, and the second phase is to try to protect – use technology and smart thinking to protect users and protect their privacy and protect their ability to operate, and the third thing is to work with activists and do training and to work country by country, really figuring out what’s the people part of this, how do we figure out who are the prime users, how do we get the right kind of information into their hands, how do we work with them so that they’re effective in the use of this technology in close societies.

We’ve got a lot of places in the world where people simply don’t even know what technology is available to them, and they don’t know what the risks are. We have to be out there in a very thoughtful and smart way, trying to figure out how to help them.

MR. CROWLEY: And what’s the balance, say, a country in Africa, where if you can find a way to connect somebody with a cell phone, to the internet, access to information, that has – one set of circumstances. But then, of course, you have a country like Iran, where if you are seen as helping these groups, actually, in some cases, you can put them in greater danger. How do we achieve both of those objectives?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, it’s not just up to us to figure out how to connect the world. There is a, clearly, fast-moving technological revolution going on, both with the internet and with cell phones. A lot of countries that you mentioned, in Africa and elsewhere, people communicate by mobile phones. So the more that happens, it gives us more of a platform. We then have to figure out within the context of what we can do, how do we make sure that those platforms are safe, free, and effective.

MR. CROWLEY: And then from an NGO standpoint, obviously, government assistance can come with some strings sometimes.

MS. HARRIS: It’s why we haven’t applied* – (laughter) – because we do advocate and we do disagree with our own government. It does come with strings and I think the question – my own board had —we discussed it quite seriously – is independence, not being perceived as being part of the United States Government. From an NGO perspective, having this much money available for this work is an extraordinary thing. It’s a gift – happens to be gift we can’t take. But the NGOs overseas have to figure out for themselves the risk-benefit analysis associated with direct assistance or assistance through NGOs that might be direct recipients.

MR. CROWLEY: And to what extent – I mean, it may vary by country by country and region by region, where in some cases there can be market – generally market forces that will propel this forward and obviously then dealing with the autocratic countries that are actively trying to diminish or control access.

MS. HARRIS: So it is different in different countries. I believe in this technology. We’re the Center for Democracy and Technology, but our motto is innovation, freedom and openness. And so opening – the market forces and opening these societies to the technologies has to go hand-in-hand with the forces of training people how to use them, how to protect themselves. And from my perspective, making sure that people understand what I’m calling rule of law on the internet, which starts with traditional rule of law and then goes to these policy levels that start, as I said, way down in standards, bodies all the way up, layer by layer, to the ISPs, to the applications like Facebook, like Twitter, like Google, to the content providers who ride on top of them, to the individuals who ride on top of that.

Getting the policies right are complex, and it’s not the easiest part of – it’s much easier to sort of talk about circumvention technology, which I believe in strongly. But if what we’re going to do is build democratic internets country by country, we’ve got to start getting people in place who are advocates for all of these laws, policies, technological freedom. They all go hand in hand.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would say, P.J., one of the things that’s great about Leslie’s organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is that they do mix the policy and the technical. We’ve got a world of tech savvy people who kind of do their own thing, and then we’ve got policy people, and they don’t connect as much as they need to. We need advocacy-smart, policy-driven organizations that help push us and other governments to do the right thing.

MS. HARRIS: Well, thanks, Michael.

MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in our audience and some questions that have been submitted to us. I want to go back to this issue of regulation, and if there’s a need for some kind of regulation, who does that? Roger in Florida writes: I’ve read in some news articles that the United Nations wants to regulate or manage the internet. How is the U.S. Government addressing this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We have, I think, a range of anxieties about throwing this issue and many others into the United Nations. We believe in the United Nations; it has a lot of important roles to play. But we have great trepidation that if this became a UN-sponsored initiative, all of the most – all of the governments that have the greatest interest in regulating and controlling content and protecting against dissident speech in their own countries would be very loud voices. So I think we’re looking for alternatives that provide some form of governance but in a broader sense, without the race to the bottom.

MS. HARRIS: Yeah, my anxiety at least as high as the State Department’s on this front. (Laughter.) We’ve done some experiments. ICANN–is one of these experiments in governance essentially a multi-stakeholder body that is not controlled by any government, that run the names and numbering system, the domains. It’s been very, very messy. We’re not – nobody’s comfortable yet with that model. But when we look at the model of turning this over to the United Nations – and specifically here it would be the ITU – we can’t see a good result coming out of that.

And so I think we’re looking for an answer that doesn’t pick a winner. Even our standards bodies that I’ve been talking about were stood up privately by stakeholders; we’re going to have to do a mix of governance solutions public and private;encouraging countries to regulate where it’s appropriate for them to do so in ways that don’t interfere with the free flow of data. I mean, we’ve got countries that are tariffing bits in a way that is difficult just to get the data to flow.

And then we should stand up multi-stakeholder bodies around specific questions – I’m part of the Global Network Initiative, which is an entity for companies to come together with NGOs to talk about their social responsibility, I would like to grow that, like to see more companies participate. But conceptually, it is is not a really a good place for governments to try to get involved. Proposals to do so have not worked very well. And okay, let’s experiment with a , self-governing bodies, government regulation and multistakeholder initiatives, and try to get that mix right.

MR. CROWLEY: But is there a role for the private sector here? I know the State Department, we’ve had some informal conversations bringing business leaders to a country like Syria and said, look, if you actually want to attract significant foreign investment, you want companies to come here and invest here, they’re going to have to have minimum standards to be able to operate. And obviously, one of those would be open connections to the internet because this is how we do business.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah, I would – we had last year a meeting of about 20 big American companies – Bob Hormats, our Under Secretary for Economic Affairs; Maria Otero, who is the global Under Secretary – and we talked to them about a kind of common platform for those companies to come together on issues of internet freedom and privacy. The Global Network Initiative right now has only three of those companies: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They’ve been leaders in this. There are a number of other companies that we all know and think of in this space that ought to be part of that initiative and ought to be part of an effort to really figure out the corporate – the private side of this. I think there is an important role for the private sector.

MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in another question. Maya (ph) W. in the U.S. writes: How can we ensure that the internet will not be shut down again? I was in Egypt during the revolution, and with no internet access, it made things pretty hard.

MS. HARRIS: I think probably Egypt will not shut down its internet again. And I think it’s going to be very, very important early on to get the lessons that came out of that, the lessons for the companies that participated, who had dozens if not hundreds of employees on the ground and understand the choices they made and why. We’re going to look at how the internet is architected. It was amazing in Egypt. There really was a central place you could go and pull a switch. Can’t happen in the United States. We have just too many points coming in and out.

But we have to reach some kind of global agreement about what you don’t do. There have been discussions in the United States about kill switches for the internet for cyber security, and I hope that Egypt is a sobering example in our own debates here. But to guarantee that an Internet shutdown doesn’t happen again is to get an agreement among countries that some actions are unacceptable, whether that’s through high-level norm setting, treaties, I don’t have the answer to that. But a lot more than human rights was damaged by the shutdown. And I think the Egyptians did not begin to understand that.

MR. CROWLEY: Mahmoud (ph) in Bahrain writes that Bahrain is gradually becoming a certified enemy of the internet with wide censorship described as – disguised as protecting citizens from the peril of pornography while the actual sites blocked are any opposition voice during the pro-democracy protests which are just going – still going on as we speak. Seven people have been killed by security forces. The internet has been throttled, making it almost unusable with several black spots, especially in demonstration locations.

How can – what kind of guidance do we give a government like Bahrain? Obviously, they’ve watched carefully to see what’s happened in Tunisia, what’s happening in Egypt, what’s happening in their neighborhood. How would we guide them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think the guidance has to be the same to everybody. We have to have a universal standard. And the standard is we favor an open internet, an open platform. There are a range of issues country-specific. As Secretary Clinton said yesterday about Bahrain, we’re urging the government to respond peacefully. We’ve very concerned about the violence. And we are dealing with those issues, again, involving protest, but with respect to the internet in Bahrain, in China, in Egypt, in the United States, we believe in an open internet, we believe in a neutral platform, and I think we have to – that has to be principle that guides everything we do.

MS. HARRIS: I agree completely, and I think Bahrain, which has got a more modern economy than many of the other countries in the Middle East, is doing itself economic damage as well as human rights damage. But they’re going to learn, as Egypt learned, that once people are organized, it’s about people. And the throttling of the internet now is too late. And they will learn that lesson, I hope, we just have to keep advocating for what we know is right, which is openness. And once you have openness, you have freedom and you have economic innovation.

MR. CROWLEY: Molly G. (ph) in Washington, D.C. writes: How is the United States Government advancing internet freedom in China? Can it be achieved worldwide?

Now, on China, obviously, you have one of the most economically dynamic countries in the world. And yet, obviously, one that does make certain words disappear when it chooses, including Tiananmen Square. There’s obviously tension there, and it goes back to what you were saying earlier about the different bets that we’re making. But how do we know that China is not right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We are doing – we have a relationship with China that includes a range of interests. We have strong economic interests, we have security interests, the human rights issue as well. I think the internet issues and the internet freedom issues transcend all of those interests. And we will continue to. We have – Ambassador Huntsman there has made this an issue that he has pushed out on. He’s met with bloggers. He’s used the internet himself to communicate internally within Chinese and Mandarin – fluent Mandarin speaker. I think our – we will continue to do whatever we can within the constraints of that society to push for more openness. There are a lot of very innovative Chinese activists – internet activists, bloggers – who are determined to get the word out. And they will do – they’re going to be creative, and we’re going to be enthusiastic about their creativity.

MR. CROWLEY: And is there a tipping point here where, as you bring more billions online, eventually, a government and its firewalls – the great firewall becomes overwhelmed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m not a technical expert, but it seems to me we’re getting to the level – there are so – the numbers are so great – 500, 600 million internet users, many more cell phones. There’s a point at which – even a very big economy like the Chinese willing to invest a lot of money in this – there’s a point where you just can’t sustain that – the kind of control that they’re looking for. And we can do things diplomatically. We raise these issues in our human rights dialogues and our strategic dialogues.

But I think we’re really looking at a Chinese population, particularly young people, who are using the internet all the time. They’re using it for entertainment, they’re using it for – to learn things about – for their schoolwork, they’re using it also because they want a broader sense both of what’s going on in the world, and they want to talk about political and social events in China. I think inescapably, that’s the direction it’s going to go.

MS. HARRIS: I think that’s right. The firewall blocks what comes into the country, and more and more people in the country using the Interenet will not affect whether they have a firewall against the data coming in. What will start to get overwhelmed is the internal dialogue that’s going on among the Chinese, the millions of blogs, and in some ways, that’s even more important The people who are blogging are , as Michael said, sophisticated. They’ve been using circumvention technology and understand where to go to find blocked sites that are mirrored elsewhere. And they’re going to lead that conversation. And in some ways, they’ve already tunneled through the rabbit hole and they’re not blocked in, and they’re speaking to everybody else. And ultimately, it’s people in China using technology that will lead to change. I think that the China model is not sustainable.

MR. POSNER: One of the things we saw that was very interesting when the Nobel Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, the democracy human rights activist last year, obviously the Chinese Government was not – wanted to block and control any discussion of that. Many, many Chinese bloggers made it their business to get that word out. It became sort of a cat-and-mouse game, but there clearly were many, many thousands of people who decided this is something that the Chinese people want to know about. And in fact, they do. There’s a great interest. How did the Nobel Prize committee decide that Liu Xiaobo is the guy who got the award? So there’s something going on within China that we really need to be watching again. It’s not – it’s for us to reinforce and support a genuine Chinese desire for openness and freedom.

And – I mean, we think about someone perhaps sitting at a computer, but with a cell phone, becomes one of the most powerful weapons there is in the world.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, although, we should not pretend that somehow having a cell phone makes you less detectable to the authorities. Phone technology, even beginning in our country, has always had greater surveillance capabilities, data collection capabilities. And some of the kinds of tools that we’ve developed for the internet have not necessarily yet migrated to the mobile environment

MR. CROWLEY: And back to Egypt. I mean, they also – as they shut down the internet, they also were making it more difficult for people to use cell phones.

MR. POSNER: Right. And one of the things, again, on the negative side, one of the things we worry about is not only is there surveillance – demonstrators picked up, they grabbed their cell phone and they get the list of contacts.

So one of the things we’re trying to do, and we’re working with some really innovative technology experts, is to try to figure out what are some of the safeguards and things that you can teach and get out there to make sure that people protect themselves in this wired world where people have lots of information that they’re carrying around with them.

MS. HARRIS: And this is where companies come in as well. Routinely companies hold onto the SMS text, not sure why since – very few people are selling texting by the number anymore. It’s very important for companies to be transparent when the government isn’t. So when people get cell phones, they really need to understand what the surveillance capabilities are, what the obligations are to turn over information. And so that’s part of corporate responsibility. Unfortunately, with cell phones, the same way that it’s hard to even get a privacy notice to somebody, it’s a harder place to get that transparency than on the web. But these are the things that companies have to think about when they’re going into these kinds of markets.

MR. CROWLEY: But a company that wants to go into a vast market like China, the temptation will be there to make compromises.

MS. HARRIS: Well, the temptation will be there, and in some cases the legal obligation. What we ask companies to do is to seriously assess the human rights risk before they go in to a country, to think about whether the products and services that they’re providing might need to be different, whether their data practices need to be different, whether their transparency need to be different, and whether their internal processes need to be different .When the government comes calling and you have a single employee – Chinese national in China, an Iranian – what’s the backup plan?

It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to come out right in every case. We can’t ask the companies to somehow fix what’s wrong with these countries. But we can ask them to make best efforts and for this to be something that’s integrated into the way they do business. That’s what GNI is. It’s not telling companies that they have to always defy the government, because there’s some situations where you can’t. And eventually, the Vodafone story will be told, and we’ll be able to assess what they did or didn’t do in Egypt. There is a lot of learning that comes from these experiences.

MR. CROWLEY: And that’s a case where a company was kind of forced to become –

MS. HARRIS: Absolutely.

MR. CROWLEY: — complicit in the sending of messages that actually contributed to some of the violence there.

MS. HARRIS: Right.

MR. POSNER: This is all part of – we live in – the world’s changing so fast, the technology’s a piece of it. The globalized economy’s a piece of it. And we have to find – we have to create rules of the road for this new – and part of its corporate, part of its government, part of its citizens. But it’s happening so quickly that I think we can’t assume that even the conversation we’re having today is going to be relevant two years from now or three years from now. We have to act – we have to act prudently and smart. That’s sort of what the Secretary was saying – let’s get out ahead of these issues, recognize the power and positive nature of these new technologies as a force for human rights and democracy and innovation, et cetera, commerce, but let’s also be smart about how we do it and try to figure out what those rules can be.

MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps a final question: What lessons do you draw so far from the incredible dynamic that’s happening in the Middle East today?

MR. POSNER: Well, this was a – again, my first lesson is there are a lot of people that have a lot of courage and they have a real desire for – to live in free and open societies, and that drives everything. And these new technologies provides some tools to them that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago and that’s hastening the process of change.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay*, what –

MS. HARRIS: So I agree absolutely. And the third point is that these new technologies are also giving them a glimpse of how other people live in a way that further fuels those desires for a freer life.

MR. CROWLEY: On that note, thank you very much for joining us for another session of Conversations with America. I’d like to thank Mike and Leslie for sharing their work and their knowledge with us, and thank you all for joining us.

MS. HARRIS: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: And we look forward to seeing you again for a future Conversation with America.

 


Remarks at Townhall on Human Rights Day

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Thank you. Good afternoon. Welcome to the Department of State. My name is P.J. Crowley. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, or as Stephen Colbert described me last night, an unnamed government functionary. (Laughter.)

I have several purposes here. One is to welcome you all, which I’ve done. The other is to introduce my two very good friends and colleagues, Assistant Secretary Mike Posner, who has an even more challenging job than I do as the State Department spokesman and — as our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Harold Koh, our distinguished legal advisor and my lawyer. (Laughter.)

Now, Mike Posner has some experience with Stephen Colbert as well. He made an appearance earlier this year, did us all proud here at the State Department. But we were trying to prep him a little bit before getting started, and we said, “So, suppose Colbert asks you a question like what got you interested in human rights?” And Michael paused and said, “I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.” (Laughter.)

Now, Harold and I are both Red Sox fans. I’m not sure whether we have anybody here from New England and Red Sox Nation, but we’re doing okay. There have been a couple of key acquisitions here. So – but we can sympathize. I mean, everybody in the world is a Cubs fan, and we can sympathize with that.

But again, we welcome you here. And this is – we welcome you on a particular day, December 10th, which commemorates Human Rights Day and the UN adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But this is something that our diplomats do every single day. And I would pause here and say you don’t need to have a release of a treasure trove of secret documents to hopefully understand that this is the subject of conversations day in and day out by our diplomats all around the world as we – both as we both promote human rights and as we try to meet the challenge every single day of practicing what we preach.

We, the United States, do not by any stretch say – suggest that we are perfect. We are – we have challenging – challenges within our practice of human rights in this country. Now, has anybody here heard of something called the Universal Periodic Review? Anybody here from Arizona? Well, we did, through Michael and Harold and others we did present something called the Universal Periodic Review to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, which was our best assessment of the human rights challenge in this country.

Why did we do it, even though some conservatives in the country said, “Why are you doing this?” Well, again, our practice here at the State Department and within the U.S. Government is to lead by example. And we do recognize that even though we have shortcomings, by the same token, we do respect human rights in this country. In fact, we do see ourselves as a model for others to emulate, and in fact we recognize that many people look to us to lead the way in terms of the promotion and practice of human rights, promoting freedom of association, the freedom to participate in an open political process, the freedom of the press.

I deal with the press every day, and whether you like the press or not — many Americans respect the press but don’t necessarily like what they print. On some days I agree with them. But by the same token, our press are here every day. They challenge the government every day. They hold us to account, and by holding us to account they make us more effective. We do recognize that in other parts of the world journalists are intimidated, they are jailed, and in some cases, tragically, they are killed. So we have built institutions of civil society here in the United States over more than 240 years, and we do see ourselves as an indispensible country in promoting human rights around the world.

We don’t – and we hold ourselves up to that standard. We respect anyone who wants to point a finger at us, and there is this debate going on in the world today about this thing called WikiLeaks, and we welcome that debate. I think that is what distinguishes us from other countries, a country like China, for example, where it is trying to stifle debate, even on a day where we recognize Liu Xiaobo as the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And we respect and salute his courage in demonstrating for a different kind of political system in China.

But with that, we welcome you here. It’s an important subject. I’m going to introduce Mike Posner, who will say a few remarks, and then Harold Koh, and then we will start a question and answer period. I think the Secretary of State’s going to come down for a quick hello to you, and then we’ll continue the Q&A after the Secretary’s remarks. But with that, happy to introduce and bring to the podium Assistant Secretary Michael Posner. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you. Thanks so much, P.J. It’s, first of all, a great pleasure to have you here on Human Rights Day. And we view this, more than anything, as an opportunity to have an open discussion and hear your questions.

Just by way of introduction, to follow on what P.J. said, today we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, now 62 years old, which for the first time provided the world a universal set of standards that apply to everyone, regardless of their nationality, their race, their religion. Everybody, by virtue of their humanity, is entitled to core rights. That document, a single set of standards that we apply to everyone, including ourselves — and as P.J. said, and as Secretary Clinton has said, our aim is lead by example. That document very much the product of Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership in the UN Human Rights Commission, and 62 years later we are still trying to honor her legacy by continuing our engagement on human rights.

The President has talked about principled engagement. We’re engaged in the world on a range of issues, political, business issues, strategic, but human rights is at the center. In every place we operate, human rights issues are raised, and that’s my job, and it’s the job of many people in this Department and in this government. And then finally, we believe very strongly that things in the world change not because you force them outside but because within a society agents of changes — whether they’re women’s groups or the press or an independent judiciary — human rights groups have the ability to create a democratic environment where change is possible.

So the Secretary in Krakow, Poland in July gave a speech which we regard as a kind of watershed for this Administration and this government, where she focused on the role of the nongovernmental sector, civil society, in promoting human rights and spelled out some of the challenges that human rights and other activist groups face in their own societies. That commitment to civil society extends to you. Part of the reason for our having you here and having events like this throughout the year, is our belief that if we’re going to have a democratic country, a truly democratic country, we need to do what we can to engage our own people, our own country.

So we’re delighted you’re here. With those opening comments, Harold and I are really eager to hear your thoughts and questions, and the floor is open. Please.

MODERATOR: And if you would identify yourself that would be great.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Dr. Janet Paker (ph). I am here from Lawrence, Kansas. I’m the executive director of Medical Whistleblower in Lawrence, Kansas, and we did submit a report to the Universal Periodic Review. I wanted to ask you in regards to the Whistleblower Protection Act, currently now in legislative session with the Senate, already has passed the House, and is being debated, I think right now, on the floor of the Senate. It’s S-372.

We are, as a nation, required by the Declaration of – for Human Rights Defenders, the mandate for human rights defenders, to protect those who are obligated to report violations of human rights under treaties that we have signed and ratified, such as CAT, the Convention against Torture. And our federal whistleblowers, those in federal service, many of whom have classified clearances, some of whom are working in the federal prison system, some of whom are working in the BA (ph), some of whom are working in military positions, some who are working in the intelligence community, are especially concerned that they do not have adequate protections right now with the Merit Systems Protection Board and also protections under the Office of Inspector General. And I was wondering if you will be looking at that legislation to make sure that it is in compliance with the Declaration for Human Rights Defenders, mandate 53/144. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going to turn to my lawyer for this one.

MR. KOH: You have a right to remain silent. (Laughter.) Well, let me say I won’t comment on the specific bill. That’s not something that we do in this forum. We will do it with regard to hearings and other things that are presented on the bill. On the basic notion, do governments have – I mean, do individuals have a right to call their governments to account, it’s a core principle of how the U.S. system has operated, notably absent in other countries.

I think if I could just say a word to follow what Mike said, it’s important to realize two things: how radical the notion of international human rights is, that simply by virtue of being born as a human being you acquire certain rights that you cannot sell, that cannot be taken from you, that you don’t have to own property or have a certain amount of money or be a certain skin color or a certain gender to possess. You have those rights simply by virtue of being born as a human being. And that’s a notion that the Universal Declaration recognized 62 years ago.

Now, there are some people in this country and elsewhere who find that concept threatening, to which I would say we hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that that concept is the very concept on which this nation was founded, that this is a nation that is based on human rights, and that therefore has a critical role to play in advancing the cause of international human rights.

Finally, Eleanor Roosevelt did a remarkable thing in her time. And those of you who haven’t looked at her speeches on the world wide web, we’d encourage you to do that. One of the most touching things is that every night during the negotiations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights she would say a prayer, which was reported in a book about her by Mary Ann Glendon, who is a professor at Harvard Law School. It says, “Show me a vision of a world made new.” That’s the title of the book, A World Made New.

The notion was that after World War II, having experienced unspeakable violence and genocide, we needed to have a different vision to animate us going forward in the 20th century. And what she was saying was the concept of recognizing and protecting fundamental human rights for all persons is what the war was about; it was what we were fighting for, and that it’s so important that we have that concept and that the advance of human rights is a measure of whether civilization is advancing or standing still. So I think that on this day, why do we celebrate it, because of an extraordinary idea, radical idea, that was recognized because it is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and because it’s a measure of the advance of civilization both in this country and elsewhere in the world.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Josh Ruebner. I’m the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and I want to thank you for hosting this event this afternoon.

I’m just a little bit confused about the universality of human rights, given that the Obama Administration has now on two occasions – the Goldstone Report and Israel’s attack on the flotilla — worked to prevent the international community from holding Israel accountable for its human rights violations.

So I have two fairly simple questions. Number one, does the State Department believe that there really truly is one human rights standard for all countries to abide by, or is Israel held to a lower standard of account? And number two: Are Palestinians, in the State Department’s vision, considered equal human beings with equal human rights to Israelis? And if so, when is the State Department going to end our diplomatic and military support for Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Harold and I were there in Geneva when the Goldstone Report was first taken up last September. Since then, I’ve been back to Israel twice, most recently last month, to follow up on our work in this area. So let me offer a couple of observations about what you say.

Yes, there is a single universal standard that applies to every country, including our own. We apply it to the Israelis, and we also view – in an answer to your second question – Palestinians as being human beings under the Universal Declaration and entitled to those rights.

We said three things in Geneva and have continued to say them about the Goldstone Report. One is that the report had a number of flaws, which we’ve identified and which, by the way, we’ve discussed directly with Justice Goldstone, who I know and respect. But the report was a document that had a number of flaws. We could discuss that.

Secondly, we’ve said that the UN forum in which that report was taken up, the Human Rights Council, devotes disproportionate attention to Israel and Palestine. It doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t legitimate. It means that, for example, next March the Council will have not one but six different resolutions on that subject. Lots of other things get no attention. Again, it doesn’t say there isn’t a serious issue. It does say that the institution needs to be reformed.

But the third we said, and we continue to say, is that the report included a number of serious allegations, and we called on the parties, including the Israelis, to take those reports seriously and to establish credible accountability mechanisms. We said that a year ago in September, and those have been my marching orders since then. We are discussing with the Israeli Government, including the IDF, the follow-up measures that we believe they ought to be taking, some of which they’ve taken and some not. We regard it as a serious issue.

And frankly, there’s a broader issue, which I’m increasingly focused on, which is the way in which the international community and governments and international institutions deal with the very real phenomenon in the 21st century of what are called asymmetrical urban wars. We face that. I faced it in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many other countries are fighting a new kind of war. And I think one of the things we’re urging the Israelis, we’re trying to do ourselves, is to take a fresh look at what are the maximum civilian protections, what are the maximum ways that humanitarian law can be enforced in these urban settings.

This is not an easy subject, but I can assure you that more than few minutes have gone into trying to address that. I’m committed to continuing to do it, and I have the support of this Department and this government to do it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. I’m Tommy Grandon (ph). I’m in Consular Affairs now, but you’re quite right. It’s been a long haul. I was a staff assistant back in 1968 for President Johnson’s commission on the celebration of the anniversary of the human rights treaties, and I just would like to historically pay tribute to not only Alice Holsted (ph), who was a co-chair with Avril Hariman (ph), but also our executive director James Green (ph), his assistant Steve Shot (ph). And you can’t talk about human rights or women’s rights without mentioning in the same breath Gladys Tulet (ph). Human rights is hard, and you said today is 62 years. I was there on its 20th anniversary, and we’re still chugging along. Please keep it up. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you.

QUESTION: I’m Mark Hangman (ph). I’m with U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Thank you for having us here today, and I just want to recognize how amazing it is to have people with your credentials in and commitment to human rights working in this Administration. Unfortunately, the United States has not ratified the most widely recognized human rights treaty in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I’m just wondering what the prospects are of the Obama Administration getting that treaty package together and shipping it to the Senate so the Senate can take it up in the not too distant future. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m going back to my lawyer.

MR. KOH: Well, I think it’s an important point. We very much want to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have ratified two protocols connected to it, which was an important step. I think that one of the things that we have to explain to those who are not in our political system is that to ratify a treaty takes not just the support of the executive branch and the support of civil society but the support of 67 senators, which is a super majority, which means that a relatively small number of senators can prevent a treaty from being ratified.

That does not prevent us from trying to move into full compliance with the treaty before we get to the point when the actual ratification occurs. And so I think as we said at the Universal Periodic Review, the difficulty of our political mechanism often leads to the opposite pattern in our country from some other countries. Some other countries ratify first then comply either later or never. Our country tends to try to move into compliance, and then when we have achieved that, at that point it becomes possible to get the political support to get the ratification.

That’s not a reason why we will not push for those ratifications. We do not believe the objections to the Convention that have been made by others are well founded. We think the Convention is something that should, indeed, be ratified by the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would just say just one other point on that. Senator Durbin’s Human Rights subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, I guess, last week or the week before on CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Melanne Verveer, who is the Ambassador for Women’s Issues here, testified on that. Secretary Clinton has made it very clear we’re going to continue to push on that.

And there’s also the relatively new Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, and we are moving forward also to try to tee that up in a place. So these are priorities for us. As Harold said, the political reality makes it challenging, but it’s not stopping us from doing what we can to be – and get those things in place so when the moment is right we’re going to able to really push forward.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name Sumej Sudani (ph) and I’m a student at Georgetown University. And my question is, recognizing the fact that we are in a war in terror and the fact that America is perceived, if not believed to be allied with nations that do not promote human rights, I wanted to ask if there are moments – or if the United States should put its national security interest before human rights, and if so when?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: When I said earlier that the policy of this Administration, articulated by the President and the Secretary of State, is that of principled engagement, it precisely is aimed at addressing that question.

I was with the Secretary last week in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Those are all countries where we have important security interests at stake relating to the war in Afghanistan, but there are also human rights issues. And those issues were raised. We’ll continue to raise them.

I think the challenge for this or any administration is to be clear that we have a range of issues with all sorts of governments, and we’ve got to be able to be multifunctional. We’ve got to be able to say, yes, we have security interests, but that’s not going to prevent us from raising the human rights concerns. And we did, and we did it very forcefully.

MR. CROWLEY: Just to add to that, this should – this is never an either-or situation. We have a range of interests with countries. We don’t have one approach to a country and – we look at what can be the most effective means of helping to transform the practice inside other countries. Well, how do we best influence them?

In a case of North Korea, a country with which we have profound human rights concerns, we do not have diplomatic relations with that country and we try to work those both in our public statements and in the dialogue we have with other countries, such as China, which has a relationship with North Korea.

In other countries, we may well have and do have well-founded human rights concerns, but we’ve made a judgment that we can best effect change in those countries from working with that country. You look at an Indonesia, for example, where we have a growing relationship, and through our cooperation and engagement we have, in fact, been able to help transform how Indonesia looks at and holds to account those within government who may be a suspect of human rights abuses.

At times we have pulled back from cooperation and made it clear that our future relationship, our future engagement, our future support, will depend on change and that we hold that country to account.

And through this involvement and having people on the ground helping to demonstrate to them this is how you have a military that relates to broader society; this is how you can create a civil society that can hold government to account but not necessarily be a threat to government. And we believe that we have had influence in various countries around the world.

Michael is going to Vietnam, which is a country where we have transformed our relationship, and while we have come a long way over 35 years, human rights is fundamental aspect of our dialogue expressly because we still have concerns about how the government – the actions the government takes with respect to its own population.

MR. KOH: And since I’m the lawyer on the panel, I hope you don’t mind if I try to narrow the terminology. You said we’re in a war on terror. We would say we’re in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces, which Congress approved in a statute that it passed in September 2001.

The President made clear a year ago today that – in his Nobel Prize lecture, that he does not like to be fighting an armed conflict, but that’s not a choice that he made. It was a choice that was presented to him, and that he’s deeply committed to fighting that armed conflict consistent with our values, because he believes that fighting that conflict consistent with our values makes us both safer and stronger. And among other things, he rejected the use of torture as a tool in that armed conflict and committed himself to pursuing that armed conflict consistent with the rule of domestic and international law.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Please.

QUESTION: Hello. My name’s Victoria (ph), and I’m a law student at Northeastern University School of Law, and I’m currently here in Washington as a legal fellow with the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty. And my question is with respect to the conversation in Geneva about the reduction of homelessness and poverty.

And as usual, we reaffirmed our commitment to that – to reducing shelter and food and security. However, we seem to continue to conceptualize that problem as one that is best solved through aspirational policy goals. However, that doesn’t generally seem to be having the effect of precluding states from passing laws that criminalize various activities that are performed by homeless people, life sustaining activities such as sleeping or collecting cans for money for food. Isn’t it time that we maybe re-conceptualize our understanding of food, and shelter, security as human rights as opposed to simply aspiring to solve the problems through various encouraging policies, if you understand what I mean?

MR. KOH: Well, I think – I certainly believe that we have human rights to freedom from want. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt said in 1941. I think that was incorporated in the Universal Declaration, the first part of which had to do with civil and political rights, and the second part which had to economic, social, and cultural rights. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question in 1972 under our domestic law and did not find a constitutional right to be free from poverty, and that has led to a different trend in our domestic constitutional law.

But there are some countries in the world, and ours is one of them, in which polices and pursuing particular policies can then lead to legal change. for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act that has actually led to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – I think the Secretary is here, so I think it probably might be a bad idea for me to keep talking. (Applause)

MR. POSNER: Earlier today we presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to three, four great Americans, and we were delighted that Secretary Clinton led that ceremony. When introducing her, I said that very much as we’ve been talking today about the American — U.S. role, leadership role, in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Eleanor Roosevelt’s role, we feel very proud to be led here at the State Department by someone who very much follows in Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership tradition, a woman who needs no introduction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

 
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U.S. Strongly Condemns Stoning Of Woman in Orakzai, Pakistan

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal stoning of a woman in Orakzai, Pakistan, allegedly by members of the Pakistani Taliban, which is depicted in a video circulating on the internet.

This vicious attack, carried out as a crowd of onlookers watched, violates all norms of human decency and is a chilling example of the cowardly disregard violent extremists have for human life. There is no justification for such barbaric and cruel treatment of a fellow human being.

 
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Philip Crowley: Press Statement on U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue Begins Today

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC

As President Obama and President Hu Jintao agreed during their November 2009 meeting, the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue began today. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner and Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for International Organizations Chen Xu are leading the Dialogue. Rule of law, religious freedom, freedom of expression, labor rights, and other human rights issues of concern will be raised over the two-day Dialogue. We are fully committed to promoting human rights everywhere, including China, and look forward to candid and in-depth discussions.

 
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Philip J. Crowley: Press Statement on Situation in Libya

The United States is gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya. We are working to ascertain the facts, but we have received multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in several days of unrest – and the full extent of the death toll is unknown due to the lack of access of international media and human rights organizations.

We have raised to a number of Libyan officials, including Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, our strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. We reiterated to Libyan officials the importance of universal rights, including freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Libyan officials have stated their commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest. We call upon the Libyan government to uphold that commitment, and hold accountable any security officer who does not act in accordance with that commitment.

 
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Michael H. Posner and Philip J. Crowley: Interview with Leslie Harris, President and CEO for the Center for Democracy and Technology

Conversations With America: The State Department’s Internet Freedom Strategy

Interview
Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs

Leslie Harris, President and CEO for the Center for Democracy and Technology

MR. CROWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Department of State in Washington, DC. I’m P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. And thank you for joining us for another version of Conversations With America, where we talk about some of the most significant diplomatic and development and international issues of the day.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an important speech on internet freedom. And here to join us today we have Mike Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Welcome.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Pleasure to be here.

MR. CROWLEY: And we have Leslie Harris, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Welcome.

MS. HARRIS: That’s right. Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: So, I should start off by just saying what do we mean by internet freedom, and why is it important in light of recent events, particularly in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, the subject of internet freedom for us is about an open media, open internet. We put ourselves on the side of free speech, free expression, free assembly, free association. And in today’s world, the new means of electronic communications give people a greater ability to talk among themselves within a country and to speak to the world. So we’re putting our money behind, and our diplomatic power behind, the notion that a free, open, neutral internet across borders in the world’s interest.

MR. CROWLEY: Unless they – obviously, what we see with what happened in Egypt is both the opportunity that technology represents but also the danger in terms of how that technology can be employed by states as well as individuals.

MS. HARRIS: So, certainly, there’s that danger from states. But on balance, if we’re able to build out a model of the internet that supports openness, that supports innovation, that supports freedom, we’re building the underpinnings of not just democracy but economic growth and personal empowerment around the world. So I don’t think that countries ought to be afraid of the internet, or individuals afraid of the internet, because either – of its potential to be a double-edged sword or the fact that, once you open up a medium, there’s good things that happen and bad things. And we’ve got to move forward on this. I think the United States , Western Europe, countries who have adopted an internet that is basically open for innovation and for business have been transformed and done well. The challenge now is that we have counter-models open for the economic growth and not open for political discussion, personal empowerment, and democracy-building. I think the role for the United States and, frankly, the role for other democracies who have embraced the internet is to make sure that, as the next three billion people come online, that at the end of the day it’s our vision of the internet that we prevails.

MR. CROWLEY: Michael, probably the – picking up on what has happened here with a transformation in Tunisia, in Egypt, how do you interpret the role that the internet or social media have played in the events that we’ve seen over the past few weeks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: A couple of things. One is, in a place like Egypt or Tunisia, the governments had lessened the space for people to organize, to operate, to communicate, to form organizations and have public meetings. So the internet became the town square, the place that they could – people could actually work with one another, communicate, and begin to build a social movement. What we saw in both places is that people – young people, in particular – view the communications via the internet, by mobile phones, as a way to basically organize and form an alternative set of power.

MR. CROWLEY: And we’ve seen that governments have recognized the potential and the power that these tools represent. Now they – in the case of Egypt, they actually literally were able to shut down the entire internet, but it didn’t stop the protests.

ASSISTANT SECRETRY POSNER: Yeah, because this is ultimately about people; it’s not just about technology. People in these societies were – have been and are frustrated by years of not being – having democratic societies, having the ability to participate in their countries’ political life. So they were determined to change. The technology gave them tools to make that process happen faster. And it’s interesting; when the Government of Egypt said we’re going to shut down the internet, they only could do it for a few days because the internet is now an essential tool of commerce, of – it’s essential for every aspect of a modern society. You can’t live without it. And so they essentially had, at some point, to say we’ve got to put it up and running or our whole country’s going to fall apart.

MS. HARRIS: I think that’s really right. There’s this concern about shutting down the internet. And what happened in Egypt was absolutely unprecedented, and I’m not sure that people understand that. There’s enormous blocking of content going on in non-democratic countries. We’ve had sort of sporadic blocking of Facebook or Twitter in – during the Green Revolution in Iran. We’ve had some activities in – I continue to call it Burma – but we have –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Me too. (Laughter.)

MS. HARRIS: But we have not had this sort of disappearing of the Egyptian country code off of what’s essentially a highly interconnected system. At the end of the day, it was extraordinarily self-defeating, because it just added more flames to the fire of what was going on in terms of the democracy groups, and it was too late. It was really fascinating, because – the Assistant Secretary is correct – it is about people, and the people had already gotten themselves organized.

But it also just destroyed the economy for three days, and I think there’s a lot of lessons that need to be looked at coming out of that Egyptian experience, and I think one question is whether or not the non-free countries will look at that as a solution or they will be more reluctant. And I don’t know the answer to that.

MR. CROWLEY: What was the situation in Egypt prior to January 25? How much penetration had social media and the internet occurred in Egypt?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, we – I was there, actually, a couple of times in 2010 early in the year in January and then in October. And there – we saw throughout the year a growing number of bloggers who were out there raising a range of concerns about torture, about a lot of subjects that had been taboo. The government was cracking down on some of them. I met one guy who had been arrested several times precisely because he was a blogger and people were paying attention. So you could see that the energy was growing around the use of these new technologies to get information out, and the government didn’t quite know how to respond other than to crack down on individuals.

But at a certain point, they lost control of that and many more people started to blog, and these organizations like the April 6 movement began to use the internet as a tool to communicate not only with a small group, but with an increasingly broad group of Egyptian society.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, it’s a fascinating example, because Egypt had not really moved to a highly censored, controlled internet like some countries. They controlled what was happening by prosecutions at the top level, going after bloggers. But people were very discouraged. One of my colleagues was there a couple of weeks before doing some training on internet policy, because ultimately, as these countries change – and I hope we get some opportunity as – with the new Egypt – you have to put the policies in place that support freedom. And they were very dispirited and did not believe that they really had that much power, not withstanding that they all had access to the internet. So to see that transformation happen in a matter of weeks, I think, was extraordinary.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, what should some of those policies be?

MS. HARRIS: Well, policy on the internet starts at a layer that most of us don’t understand and don’t care to. It starts at a standards level, it goes to what rules do we impose on internet service providers, are we going to make them liable for the content that comes over their networks? We don’t do that in the United States. We have a lot of voluntary compliance, voluntary good acting. The same at the applications level; we have strong protections for intermediaries.

We – in this country, we don’t license at the various levels. Other countries do, but you have licensing schemes that turn the entities into basically arms of the government – big, big problem with how Egypt is set up and how those companies had to respond given how they are licensed in that country.

So all the way up to the questions of basic free speech, criminal libel, how much free speech you have – you have to look at these policies, you have to look at the surveillance policies, the surveillance technology mandates. We’re struggling with a lot of the same questions here, and we’ve had hearings in the United States’ Congress this week on some of the same questions.

We have to be very careful, because as Secretary Clinton said in her speech, we do have these big questions – security, freedom, copyright ownership, free flow of information, confidentiality. But now that the United States is out there as much as it is on internet freedom, we have an additional obligation when we’re adopting our own policies that may work here, because we are in a rule-of-law country, to understand what the broader implications could be. And as a country like Egypt, I hope starts afresh, we need to be constantly the role model for struggling with these difficult concerns and coming down, as the Secretary said, on the side of openness.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, there are tensions here. Just as ordinary people use social media to communicate, so do bad actors, terrorists, and so forth. How do we try to balance off the openness, the – having the internet as a true public square, and yet provide sufficient oversight so the government can understand what is being done and try to perhaps stop the internet from being used as a destructive force, even as you encourage it to be used as an empowering force?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think we have to go back to our first principles. We believe in free speech, but we have limits on speech. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. We have concerns about speech that immediately incites violence. So we are – we have rules about pornography and keeping pornography out of the public domain for children, for example. We have to be very mindful that this is – we’ve sort of amplified some of those discussions because of the power of this medium.

But it’s the same discussion. We need to be aware of the challenges, and that – one of the things, I think, Secretary Clinton did this week was to say we stand on the side of openness, but we’re doing this with our eyes open, and we are, in fact, going to be responsible in the way we deal with national security issues, with law enforcement. We’re not going to pretend those things don’t exist, but we’re going to always lean on the side of as much openness as possible and trying to have a neutral venue, a forum, a platform where people can communicate openly. For political purposes, for innovation, for education, for trade, we’re going to try to keep the platform open and neutral.

MS. HARRIS: And we’re not there yet. We are a beacon and we’re not there yet. Obviously, the answer to some of these bad actor questions is we don’t disappear law enforcement out of the equation when we move to the internet.

But in the United States, we’re operating on laws about the government’s access to information online that never – that did not anticipate the environment we’re in now. So if you store something on your computer or in your desk, you have Fourth Amendment protections. For the most part, all that we’re storing online is subject to very low legal standards. So we need to take some actions here to raise the bar, even when we’re talking about these challenges, or we will find ourselves, not in a position to be able to go to the rest of the world and tell them that we have the answers.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: One of the things, P.J., last year, Secretary gave a speech on the same subject at the Newseum about a year ago. And it was sort of a clarion call. It was saying this is a big subject, we’re going to be involved, we’re going to play a leadership role.

The speech this week was a more reflective speech saying, okay, we’ve got a year evaluation of this and we recognize that there are all these challenges, these contradictions, if you will. And we’re going to take those things seriously, but we’re going to redouble our efforts to be leaders on this notion of an open internet. So I think it’s an important speech both because it is such a clear call to leadership for us, but at the same time it’s a recognition of the challenges we face.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but is this a case – and how do you balance legitimate, sovereign interests a state might have versus coming up with a standard that is more global? Who will ultimately set the rules of the road?

MS. HARRIS: This is, I think, the biggest challenge for the internet going forward. For the first period of time, it was principally an American creation and it was easier to figure that out. We’re now in an environment, we’ve got – I don’t remember the figures exactly – 2 billion online and perhaps 3 billion to go, and therefore, the challenge is completely different. We operate in an environment where when you put data in the cloud, it could actually be in – anywhere in the world.

So our traditional questions of jurisdiction that the Assistant Secretary and I learned in law school a long time ago – (laughter) – absolutely don’t fit this environment. Questions of which government should have access to the information, which privacy law ought to apply, are enormous challenges. And we have to figure out some kind of global governance bodies that don’t force us into a race to the bottom. There are some calls around the world for governance bodies, like the UN, where we would be negotiating what works on the internet or what ought to work with countries who have very, very different values.

I’m hoping that in the first instance, that we can reach agreement with other democratic governments on what we believe the right policy principles are, so that we can start demonstrating the way that the Internet should be governed cross borders. But the questions of who should manage the internet in a global environment is the thorniest andthe biggest challenge. I know from my organization, we’ve spent 17 years on the 1 and 2.0 versions of this governance question, and now we have to confront this 3.0 question

MR. CROWLEY: I know we’ll come back to that issue as we take some questions from our viewers.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, sure.

MR. CROWLEY: But the Secretary in her speech did start and focus on Egypt, but she also mentioned a number of other countries where perhaps they haven’t hit the kill switch entirely, but they certainly, in the case of a China or a Vietnam or a Burma or others, are restricting access to the internet and access to information. What’s been our experience in those countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, I think one experience is that we have to – there’s not a one size fits all response to this. Different countries do this in different ways. The Chinese, for example, employ a number of people monitoring what’s out there and taking it down. In the last few days, we’ve seen the word Egypt and the words Hillary Clinton have disappeared from the internet in Egypt – in China. And so that takes a lot of doing in a country with a billion, three hundred million people. I don’t think that’s sustainable.

But we have to be, I think, creative, innovative. We’ve got to use technology, and we’ve got to be responsive to people who are trying in each of these countries to figure out both have to navigate around the restrictions on content and at the same time protect their own personal privacy. What we’ve seen in a lot of countries is that countries – China, again, would be an example, there are many more – governments use technology, use the internet, to put out false information, to dissemble information and also to go after people by taking their own personal information and using it for their own security purposes.

MR. CROWLEY: Now, China reacted to the Secretary’s speech relatively negatively. By the same token, don’t they have a growing number of bloggers who are – and to what extent are they able to find a way to stay connected despite the government’s efforts?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: History is on our side here. This is – in the long term, we’re betting on openness, and we’re betting on a neutral platform where lots of stuff is out there. Some of it we’re going to like; some of it we’re not going to like. But we’re believing that more free speech, more association is in our national interest and the world’s national interest. The Chinese are betting that they can have an internet that deals with economy and things that they’re prepared to talk about, but they’re not going to have that more robust, open discussion. I think that they can’t sustain that.

MR. CROWLEY: Just by the nature of the name of your organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, can technology make societies more democratic in the long run?

MS. HARRIS: Well, I agree with the Secretary. People make countries more democratic in the long run. . Assuming more and people come online and participate, it is very, very difficult to control —- I agree with the assistant secretary. I’m betting on the side of the people, when we’re talking about – I think the numbers are staggering about how many blogs, micro blogs, et cetera exist, staggering numbers. There is no way that technology is going to defeat that over the long run.

The challenge for the United States and for free countries is that we have now these two models of the internet. We have the Chinese model that says we can have economic growth and prosperity because of this new technology and somehow put the political situation aside, and then we have our system. We ought to be using trade, diplomacy, aid all around the world, all the tools that are at our disposal, to make sure that it’s our vision and not the Chinese one that prevails.

MR. CROWLEY: And what do we do in terms of providing support to try to keep people – ensure they have access to the – to these technologies, and, if necessary, try to defeat some of the walls that other countries put up.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, Congress has generously appropriated funds. We’ve spent about $20 million to date. We have a $30 million appropriation. We’re now getting the money out. And what we’re looking at is really three things: trying to circumvent the controls that the Chinese and others put on content, and the second phase is to try to protect – use technology and smart thinking to protect users and protect their privacy and protect their ability to operate, and the third thing is to work with activists and do training and to work country by country, really figuring out what’s the people part of this, how do we figure out who are the prime users, how do we get the right kind of information into their hands, how do we work with them so that they’re effective in the use of this technology in close societies.

We’ve got a lot of places in the world where people simply don’t even know what technology is available to them, and they don’t know what the risks are. We have to be out there in a very thoughtful and smart way, trying to figure out how to help them.

MR. CROWLEY: And what’s the balance, say, a country in Africa, where if you can find a way to connect somebody with a cell phone, to the internet, access to information, that has – one set of circumstances. But then, of course, you have a country like Iran, where if you are seen as helping these groups, actually, in some cases, you can put them in greater danger. How do we achieve both of those objectives?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, it’s not just up to us to figure out how to connect the world. There is a, clearly, fast-moving technological revolution going on, both with the internet and with cell phones. A lot of countries that you mentioned, in Africa and elsewhere, people communicate by mobile phones. So the more that happens, it gives us more of a platform. We then have to figure out within the context of what we can do, how do we make sure that those platforms are safe, free, and effective.

MR. CROWLEY: And then from an NGO standpoint, obviously, government assistance can come with some strings sometimes.

MS. HARRIS: It’s why we haven’t applied* – (laughter) – because we do advocate and we do disagree with our own government. It does come with strings and I think the question – my own board had —we discussed it quite seriously – is independence, not being perceived as being part of the United States Government. From an NGO perspective, having this much money available for this work is an extraordinary thing. It’s a gift – happens to be gift we can’t take. But the NGOs overseas have to figure out for themselves the risk-benefit analysis associated with direct assistance or assistance through NGOs that might be direct recipients.

MR. CROWLEY: And to what extent – I mean, it may vary by country by country and region by region, where in some cases there can be market – generally market forces that will propel this forward and obviously then dealing with the autocratic countries that are actively trying to diminish or control access.

MS. HARRIS: So it is different in different countries. I believe in this technology. We’re the Center for Democracy and Technology, but our motto is innovation, freedom and openness. And so opening – the market forces and opening these societies to the technologies has to go hand-in-hand with the forces of training people how to use them, how to protect themselves. And from my perspective, making sure that people understand what I’m calling rule of law on the internet, which starts with traditional rule of law and then goes to these policy levels that start, as I said, way down in standards, bodies all the way up, layer by layer, to the ISPs, to the applications like Facebook, like Twitter, like Google, to the content providers who ride on top of them, to the individuals who ride on top of that.

Getting the policies right are complex, and it’s not the easiest part of – it’s much easier to sort of talk about circumvention technology, which I believe in strongly. But if what we’re going to do is build democratic internets country by country, we’ve got to start getting people in place who are advocates for all of these laws, policies, technological freedom. They all go hand in hand.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would say, P.J., one of the things that’s great about Leslie’s organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is that they do mix the policy and the technical. We’ve got a world of tech savvy people who kind of do their own thing, and then we’ve got policy people, and they don’t connect as much as they need to. We need advocacy-smart, policy-driven organizations that help push us and other governments to do the right thing.

MS. HARRIS: Well, thanks, Michael.

MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in our audience and some questions that have been submitted to us. I want to go back to this issue of regulation, and if there’s a need for some kind of regulation, who does that? Roger in Florida writes: I’ve read in some news articles that the United Nations wants to regulate or manage the internet. How is the U.S. Government addressing this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We have, I think, a range of anxieties about throwing this issue and many others into the United Nations. We believe in the United Nations; it has a lot of important roles to play. But we have great trepidation that if this became a UN-sponsored initiative, all of the most – all of the governments that have the greatest interest in regulating and controlling content and protecting against dissident speech in their own countries would be very loud voices. So I think we’re looking for alternatives that provide some form of governance but in a broader sense, without the race to the bottom.

MS. HARRIS: Yeah, my anxiety at least as high as the State Department’s on this front. (Laughter.) We’ve done some experiments. ICANN–is one of these experiments in governance essentially a multi-stakeholder body that is not controlled by any government, that run the names and numbering system, the domains. It’s been very, very messy. We’re not – nobody’s comfortable yet with that model. But when we look at the model of turning this over to the United Nations – and specifically here it would be the ITU – we can’t see a good result coming out of that.

And so I think we’re looking for an answer that doesn’t pick a winner. Even our standards bodies that I’ve been talking about were stood up privately by stakeholders; we’re going to have to do a mix of governance solutions public and private;encouraging countries to regulate where it’s appropriate for them to do so in ways that don’t interfere with the free flow of data. I mean, we’ve got countries that are tariffing bits in a way that is difficult just to get the data to flow.

And then we should stand up multi-stakeholder bodies around specific questions – I’m part of the Global Network Initiative, which is an entity for companies to come together with NGOs to talk about their social responsibility, I would like to grow that, like to see more companies participate. But conceptually, it is is not a really a good place for governments to try to get involved. Proposals to do so have not worked very well. And okay, let’s experiment with a , self-governing bodies, government regulation and multistakeholder initiatives, and try to get that mix right.

MR. CROWLEY: But is there a role for the private sector here? I know the State Department, we’ve had some informal conversations bringing business leaders to a country like Syria and said, look, if you actually want to attract significant foreign investment, you want companies to come here and invest here, they’re going to have to have minimum standards to be able to operate. And obviously, one of those would be open connections to the internet because this is how we do business.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah, I would – we had last year a meeting of about 20 big American companies – Bob Hormats, our Under Secretary for Economic Affairs; Maria Otero, who is the global Under Secretary – and we talked to them about a kind of common platform for those companies to come together on issues of internet freedom and privacy. The Global Network Initiative right now has only three of those companies: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They’ve been leaders in this. There are a number of other companies that we all know and think of in this space that ought to be part of that initiative and ought to be part of an effort to really figure out the corporate – the private side of this. I think there is an important role for the private sector.

MR. CROWLEY: I want to bring in another question. Maya (ph) W. in the U.S. writes: How can we ensure that the internet will not be shut down again? I was in Egypt during the revolution, and with no internet access, it made things pretty hard.

MS. HARRIS: I think probably Egypt will not shut down its internet again. And I think it’s going to be very, very important early on to get the lessons that came out of that, the lessons for the companies that participated, who had dozens if not hundreds of employees on the ground and understand the choices they made and why. We’re going to look at how the internet is architected. It was amazing in Egypt. There really was a central place you could go and pull a switch. Can’t happen in the United States. We have just too many points coming in and out.

But we have to reach some kind of global agreement about what you don’t do. There have been discussions in the United States about kill switches for the internet for cyber security, and I hope that Egypt is a sobering example in our own debates here. But to guarantee that an Internet shutdown doesn’t happen again is to get an agreement among countries that some actions are unacceptable, whether that’s through high-level norm setting, treaties, I don’t have the answer to that. But a lot more than human rights was damaged by the shutdown. And I think the Egyptians did not begin to understand that.

MR. CROWLEY: Mahmoud (ph) in Bahrain writes that Bahrain is gradually becoming a certified enemy of the internet with wide censorship described as – disguised as protecting citizens from the peril of pornography while the actual sites blocked are any opposition voice during the pro-democracy protests which are just going – still going on as we speak. Seven people have been killed by security forces. The internet has been throttled, making it almost unusable with several black spots, especially in demonstration locations.

How can – what kind of guidance do we give a government like Bahrain? Obviously, they’ve watched carefully to see what’s happened in Tunisia, what’s happening in Egypt, what’s happening in their neighborhood. How would we guide them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think the guidance has to be the same to everybody. We have to have a universal standard. And the standard is we favor an open internet, an open platform. There are a range of issues country-specific. As Secretary Clinton said yesterday about Bahrain, we’re urging the government to respond peacefully. We’ve very concerned about the violence. And we are dealing with those issues, again, involving protest, but with respect to the internet in Bahrain, in China, in Egypt, in the United States, we believe in an open internet, we believe in a neutral platform, and I think we have to – that has to be principle that guides everything we do.

MS. HARRIS: I agree completely, and I think Bahrain, which has got a more modern economy than many of the other countries in the Middle East, is doing itself economic damage as well as human rights damage. But they’re going to learn, as Egypt learned, that once people are organized, it’s about people. And the throttling of the internet now is too late. And they will learn that lesson, I hope, we just have to keep advocating for what we know is right, which is openness. And once you have openness, you have freedom and you have economic innovation.

MR. CROWLEY: Molly G. (ph) in Washington, D.C. writes: How is the United States Government advancing internet freedom in China? Can it be achieved worldwide?

Now, on China, obviously, you have one of the most economically dynamic countries in the world. And yet, obviously, one that does make certain words disappear when it chooses, including Tiananmen Square. There’s obviously tension there, and it goes back to what you were saying earlier about the different bets that we’re making. But how do we know that China is not right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We are doing – we have a relationship with China that includes a range of interests. We have strong economic interests, we have security interests, the human rights issue as well. I think the internet issues and the internet freedom issues transcend all of those interests. And we will continue to. We have – Ambassador Huntsman there has made this an issue that he has pushed out on. He’s met with bloggers. He’s used the internet himself to communicate internally within Chinese and Mandarin – fluent Mandarin speaker. I think our – we will continue to do whatever we can within the constraints of that society to push for more openness. There are a lot of very innovative Chinese activists – internet activists, bloggers – who are determined to get the word out. And they will do – they’re going to be creative, and we’re going to be enthusiastic about their creativity.

MR. CROWLEY: And is there a tipping point here where, as you bring more billions online, eventually, a government and its firewalls – the great firewall becomes overwhelmed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m not a technical expert, but it seems to me we’re getting to the level – there are so – the numbers are so great – 500, 600 million internet users, many more cell phones. There’s a point at which – even a very big economy like the Chinese willing to invest a lot of money in this – there’s a point where you just can’t sustain that – the kind of control that they’re looking for. And we can do things diplomatically. We raise these issues in our human rights dialogues and our strategic dialogues.

But I think we’re really looking at a Chinese population, particularly young people, who are using the internet all the time. They’re using it for entertainment, they’re using it for – to learn things about – for their schoolwork, they’re using it also because they want a broader sense both of what’s going on in the world, and they want to talk about political and social events in China. I think inescapably, that’s the direction it’s going to go.

MS. HARRIS: I think that’s right. The firewall blocks what comes into the country, and more and more people in the country using the Interenet will not affect whether they have a firewall against the data coming in. What will start to get overwhelmed is the internal dialogue that’s going on among the Chinese, the millions of blogs, and in some ways, that’s even more important The people who are blogging are , as Michael said, sophisticated. They’ve been using circumvention technology and understand where to go to find blocked sites that are mirrored elsewhere. And they’re going to lead that conversation. And in some ways, they’ve already tunneled through the rabbit hole and they’re not blocked in, and they’re speaking to everybody else. And ultimately, it’s people in China using technology that will lead to change. I think that the China model is not sustainable.

MR. POSNER: One of the things we saw that was very interesting when the Nobel Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, the democracy human rights activist last year, obviously the Chinese Government was not – wanted to block and control any discussion of that. Many, many Chinese bloggers made it their business to get that word out. It became sort of a cat-and-mouse game, but there clearly were many, many thousands of people who decided this is something that the Chinese people want to know about. And in fact, they do. There’s a great interest. How did the Nobel Prize committee decide that Liu Xiaobo is the guy who got the award? So there’s something going on within China that we really need to be watching again. It’s not – it’s for us to reinforce and support a genuine Chinese desire for openness and freedom.

And – I mean, we think about someone perhaps sitting at a computer, but with a cell phone, becomes one of the most powerful weapons there is in the world.

MS. HARRIS: Yes, although, we should not pretend that somehow having a cell phone makes you less detectable to the authorities. Phone technology, even beginning in our country, has always had greater surveillance capabilities, data collection capabilities. And some of the kinds of tools that we’ve developed for the internet have not necessarily yet migrated to the mobile environment

MR. CROWLEY: And back to Egypt. I mean, they also – as they shut down the internet, they also were making it more difficult for people to use cell phones.

MR. POSNER: Right. And one of the things, again, on the negative side, one of the things we worry about is not only is there surveillance – demonstrators picked up, they grabbed their cell phone and they get the list of contacts.

So one of the things we’re trying to do, and we’re working with some really innovative technology experts, is to try to figure out what are some of the safeguards and things that you can teach and get out there to make sure that people protect themselves in this wired world where people have lots of information that they’re carrying around with them.

MS. HARRIS: And this is where companies come in as well. Routinely companies hold onto the SMS text, not sure why since – very few people are selling texting by the number anymore. It’s very important for companies to be transparent when the government isn’t. So when people get cell phones, they really need to understand what the surveillance capabilities are, what the obligations are to turn over information. And so that’s part of corporate responsibility. Unfortunately, with cell phones, the same way that it’s hard to even get a privacy notice to somebody, it’s a harder place to get that transparency than on the web. But these are the things that companies have to think about when they’re going into these kinds of markets.

MR. CROWLEY: But a company that wants to go into a vast market like China, the temptation will be there to make compromises.

MS. HARRIS: Well, the temptation will be there, and in some cases the legal obligation. What we ask companies to do is to seriously assess the human rights risk before they go in to a country, to think about whether the products and services that they’re providing might need to be different, whether their data practices need to be different, whether their transparency need to be different, and whether their internal processes need to be different .When the government comes calling and you have a single employee – Chinese national in China, an Iranian – what’s the backup plan?

It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to come out right in every case. We can’t ask the companies to somehow fix what’s wrong with these countries. But we can ask them to make best efforts and for this to be something that’s integrated into the way they do business. That’s what GNI is. It’s not telling companies that they have to always defy the government, because there’s some situations where you can’t. And eventually, the Vodafone story will be told, and we’ll be able to assess what they did or didn’t do in Egypt. There is a lot of learning that comes from these experiences.

MR. CROWLEY: And that’s a case where a company was kind of forced to become –

MS. HARRIS: Absolutely.

MR. CROWLEY: — complicit in the sending of messages that actually contributed to some of the violence there.

MS. HARRIS: Right.

MR. POSNER: This is all part of – we live in – the world’s changing so fast, the technology’s a piece of it. The globalized economy’s a piece of it. And we have to find – we have to create rules of the road for this new – and part of its corporate, part of its government, part of its citizens. But it’s happening so quickly that I think we can’t assume that even the conversation we’re having today is going to be relevant two years from now or three years from now. We have to act – we have to act prudently and smart. That’s sort of what the Secretary was saying – let’s get out ahead of these issues, recognize the power and positive nature of these new technologies as a force for human rights and democracy and innovation, et cetera, commerce, but let’s also be smart about how we do it and try to figure out what those rules can be.

MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps a final question: What lessons do you draw so far from the incredible dynamic that’s happening in the Middle East today?

MR. POSNER: Well, this was a – again, my first lesson is there are a lot of people that have a lot of courage and they have a real desire for – to live in free and open societies, and that drives everything. And these new technologies provides some tools to them that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago and that’s hastening the process of change.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay*, what –

MS. HARRIS: So I agree absolutely. And the third point is that these new technologies are also giving them a glimpse of how other people live in a way that further fuels those desires for a freer life.

MR. CROWLEY: On that note, thank you very much for joining us for another session of Conversations with America. I’d like to thank Mike and Leslie for sharing their work and their knowledge with us, and thank you all for joining us.

MS. HARRIS: Thank you.

MR. CROWLEY: And we look forward to seeing you again for a future Conversation with America.

 
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Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley on the Charging of Alan Gross

As Secretary Clinton has said, Alan Gross has been harshly and unfairly jailed for too long.

We deplore the Cuban government’s announcement that Cuban prosecutors intend to seek a 20 year sentence against Mr. Gross. As we have said many times before Mr. Gross is a dedicated international development worker who was in Cuba providing support to members of the Cuban Jewish community. He has been held without charges for more than a year, contrary to all international human rights obligations and commitments regarding justice and due process. He should be home with his family now.

 
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Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley on Religious Violence in Indonesia

The United States is deeply concerned about the mob violence in Indonesia directed at members of the Ahmadiyah community that resulted in the deaths of three people and the wounding of several others this past weekend. We also note with concern the recent church burnings in Central Java. We join the vast majority of Indonesians in deploring these acts of violence.

President Yudhoyono’s statement, that the Government of Indonesia will take firm action against the perpetrators of the violence, underscores Indonesia’s commitment to rule of law and to the protection of the rights of all communities.

 


Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley: Call for Release of Tal Al-Mallouhi

The United States strongly condemns Syria’s secret trial of blogger Tal Al-Mallouhi, calls for her immediate release, and rejects as baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage. We call on the Syrian government to immediately release all its prisoners of conscience; and allow its citizens freedom to exercise their universal rights of expression and association without fear of retribution from their own government.

 
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Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley on Protests in Algeria

We note the ongoing protests in Algeria, and call for restraint on the part of the security services. In addition, we reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including assembly and expression. These rights apply on the internet. Moreover, these rights must be respected. We will continue to follow the situation closely in the days ahead.

 
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