Opening a two-day conference on digital freedom sponsored by Google and the Dutch government, Mrs. Clinton warned that restrictions on the Internet threatened not only basic freedoms and human rights, but also international commerce and the free flow of information that increasingly makes it possible.
“When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us,” Mrs. Clinton said. She added: “There isn’t an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet. There’s just the Internet.”
Mrs. Clinton and others cited examples in which autocratic countries — often with the assistance of international technology corporations — cracked down on access to the Internet or the use of it, including Syria, Iran, China and Russia. But increasingly some democratic countries have tried to restrict information, a development that underscores the complexity of controlling an essential part of modern life.
On Dec. 1, South Korea’s Communications Commission said it would start reviewing social networking services and mobile applications to remove offensive or immoral content. Officials described the changes, including adding an eight-member team to monitor social media sites, as a necessary measure against North Korean propaganda.
Four days later, the minister of communications in India said that it, too, would develop a way to screen information on the Internet and remove content it found offensive or incendiary, after Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft jointly refused to do so.
While efforts by countries like China to curb the Internet have been well documented, such steps by democratic countries have deepened alarm among free-speech advocates, even if the intent is to regulate harmful or illegal content.
“More and more countries are trying now to regulate and control the Internet,” Uri Rosenthal, the foreign minister of the Netherlands, said after meeting separately with Mrs. Clinton on Thursday. “And it is unacceptable that Web sites are blocked, Internet queues are filtered, content manipulated and bloggers are attacked and imprisoned.”
Mrs. Clinton cited the imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny, a widely followed blogger who has challenged the results of Russia’s Dec. 4 parliamentary elections, and the arrest of a Syrian blogger, Anas al-Marawi, who has opposed the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its crackdown. “These and many other incidents worldwide remind of us of the stakes of this struggle,” she said.
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that in Russia, the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., had asked Russia’s largest social networking site, VKontakte, to block the online activities of opposition groups challenging the election results.
Mrs. Clinton, in her remarks, also cited efforts by countries to change the way the Internet — now largely self-regulated and globally interconnected — is governed. Although she did not name the countries, Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan introduced a draft resolution at the United Nations this year that would allow greater government control over the Internet in individual countries. The United States opposes the resolution.
Mrs. Clinton said such a proposal would undermine the very nature of the Internet. “They aim to impose a system, cemented in a global code, that expands control over Internet resources, institutions and content and centralizes that control in the hands of the government,” she said.
Jurisdiction on the Internet has always been a murky business. Because the companies that run the major search engines and social media sites are based in the United States, and have most of their hardware and data storage there, they claim that American laws about free speech apply.
In India, that has led to tensions with major Internet companies. Since August, the Indian government has held six meetings with executives from Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google in which government officials expressed their alarm at content on YouTube and other sites that they said maligned politicians and religious figures.
Anger at India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance government, led by the Congress Party, has mounted this year as government corruption scandals have been uncovered. The number and circulation of parodies, satirical videos and jokes about political figures have also increased.
India has an uneasy relationship with free speech. Books and movies are sometimes banned if they are critical of powerful businesspeople or politicians, or if the government feels they may offend religious sensibilities.
However, I believe that Secretary of State Clinton needs to look in the mirror to see how her own country is trying to control and cut off free speech on the Internet. Seizures of web sites by ICE and the DOJ without the protection of the 14th Amendment requirements of Due Process are becoming almost commonplace, and that scares the hell out of me. How about you?
Thanks to Steven Lee Myers and Heather Timmons and the New York Times, and
Thanks for “listening”
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