US to boost support for cyber dissidents
By MATTHEW LEE
WASHINGTON -- The United States stands with cyber dissidents and
democracy activists from the Middle East to China and beyond, Secretary
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.
She pledged to expand the Obama administration's efforts to foil
Internet repression in autocratic states.
In an impassioned speech on Internet freedom, Clinton said the
administration would spend $25 million this year on initiatives designed
to protect bloggers and help them get around curbs like the Great
Firewall of China, the gagging of social media sites in Iran, Cuba,
Syria, Vietnam and Myanmar as well as Egypt's recent unsuccessful
attempt to thwart anti-government protests by simply pulling the plug on
She also said the State Department, which last week launched Twitter
feeds in Arabic and Farsi to connect with populations throughout the
Arab world and Iran, would broaden the reach of its online mini-appeals
for human rights and democracy by creating accounts cater to audiences
in China, Russia and India in their native languages.
Clinton challenged authoritarian leaders and regimes to embrace online
freedom and the demands of cyber dissidents or risk being toppled by
tides of unrest, similar to what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia to
longtime presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
"History has shown us that repression often sows the seeds for
revolution down the road," she said. "Those who clamp down on Internet
freedom may be able to hold back the full impact of their people's
yearnings for a while, but not forever."
"Leaders worldwide have a choice to make," Clinton said. "They can let
the Internet in their countries flourish, and take the risk that the
freedoms it enables will lead to a greater demand for political rights.
Or they can constrict the Internet, choke the freedoms it naturally
sustains, and risk losing all the economic and social benefits that come
from a networked society."
"We believe that governments who have erected barriers to Internet
freedom - whether they're technical filters or censorship regimes or
attacks on those who exercise their rights to expression and assembly
online - will eventually find themselves boxed in," she said. "They will
face a dictator's dilemma, and will have to choose between letting the
walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing - which means both
doubling down on a losing hand by resorting to greater oppression, and
enduring the escalating opportunity cost of missing out on the ideas
that have been blocked."
She said fighting restrictions would not be easy but stressed that the
U.S. is committed to ensuring the Internet remains an open forum for
"While the rights we seek to protect are clear, the various ways that
these rights are violated are increasingly complex," Clinton said.
The U.S. will "help people in oppressive Internet environments get
around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers and the
thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online," she
said in the speech to students at The George Washington University. She
countered criticism leveled at the administration for not investing in a
single technological fix to overcome government controls, saying there
was "no silver bullet" and "no app" to do that. Instead, she said, the
U.S. would take a multi-pronged approach.
Clinton's remarks, her second major address on the topic of Internet
freedom since becoming America's top diplomat, come amid a groundswell
of protests around the Middle East that have been abetted by online
agitators using social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube
to organize anti-government demonstrations from Algeria to Yemen, Syria,
Iran and Jordan.
Despite the Obama administration's own problems with an unfettered
Internet, most notably the release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive
diplomatic documents by the WikiLeaks website, Clinton said the U.S. is
unwavering in its commitment to cyber freedom, even as it seeks to
prosecute online criminals and terrorists.
She drew a distinction between attempts to prosecute WikiLeaks founder
Julian Assange for publishing the material along with the suspected
leaker, and measures taken by repressive regimes to crack down on opponents.
"The WikiLeaks incident began with a theft just as if it had been
executed by smuggling papers in a briefcase," she said. "The fact that
Wikileaks used the Internet is not the reason we criticized it.
Wikileaks does not challenge our commitment to Internet freedom."
Clinton argued that the Internet is neither good nor bad, a force for
neither liberation nor repression. It is the sum of what its users make
it, she says.