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Clinton Calls On Businesses To Support Internet Freedom

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called for uncensored Internet access around the world. Among other initiatives, Clinton said the U.S. government will meet next month with network services companies to advance "Internet freedom." The secretary, speaking at the Newseum journalism museum in what the Department of State billed as a major policy address, urged open access to the Internet. "In many respects, information has never been so free. Blogs, e-mail, and text messages have opened up a new forum for exchanging ideas and created new targets for censorship," Clinton said. "We need to create a world in which access to networks and information brings people closer together and expands our definition of community."

In a spin on Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous four freedoms speech, Clinton listed five fundamental Internet freedoms: speech, worship, freedom from fear of cyber attacks, freedom from "want" (i.e., alleviating suffering, freedom to connect. Clinton called out countries that restrict Internet access, block certain Web sites and search engines, or violate privacy by spying on their citizens' Web use. "Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century," she said, comparing the freedom to connect to the freedom of assembly.

The Secretary of State announced a $15 million program aimed at expanding "civic participation" and increasing new media capabilities in the Middle East and North Africa. Funding will go towards programs that open access to the Web. In remarks aimed at the business community, Clinton said companies shouldn't yield to pressure from foreign governments to censor themselves or violate human rights. She urged companies to resist such pressures even if it means losing business in those countries, and argued that a principled stand would be good for business over the long run.

"This issue is about more than claiming the moral high ground," she said. "It comes down to trust between firms and their customers. Consumers everywhere want to have confidence that the companies they rely on will act as responsible stewards of their information." Clinton said the State Department will host a meeting in February with network services companies to address the issues around Internet freedom. According to a State Department official, the government is regularly engaged in in-depth conversations with tech companies about how their technologies are being used to foster human rights and how those companies can help promote Internet access and freedom.

Clinton addressed recent cyber attacks on companies in the United States and elsewhere that have been attributed to China, calling for a full and open investigation. "We look to Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions," she said. "We also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent." The secretary said there will be "consequences and international condemnation" for cyber attacks, and that the United States and others can foster norms of behavior online.