Earlier this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a $30 million State Department budget to promote internet freedom, currently being used on projects ranging from developing a covert suitcase that would allow wireless communication to a shadow cell phone system in Afghanistan. Access to internet and media should be a natural human right, and like the U.S., the world should be insuring that this freedom exists for all.
“On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.” These statements by Clinton echo the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The opportunities that the internet has afforded the citizens of the world are a salient part of modern day discourse, and the global community should be upholding their manifesto.
Take a look at Iran's citizen journalists to see that access to media and internet is essential to combating oppressive regimes and exposing the world to what is actually happening. Not only activism, but also being able to express views openly on social networking sites and read whatever one may please, is a privilege that not all have, but should.
It is important to note that while this priority represents a positive for insuring access as a right, it is indisputable that this new freedom can lead to a myriad of possibilities beyond simply letting people use the internet.
For example, a group of researchers who have developed Telex, a prototype to help defeat Chinese web filters. Telex stations would rely on being deployed by governments or private organizations. While this technology would be something that will help the Chinese people navigate the severe censorship, the U.S. would also effectively be attacking and diminishing Chinese internet policy. Clinton’s push for internet freedom could extend beyond granting Chinese access to Facebook and unrestricted Google searches, but could even go as far to lay the infrastructure for a Chinese revolutionary to create their own Chinese WikiLeaks. While the U.S. is not directly encouraging this, opening up these channels could indirectly do so. This could damage Chinese reputation by circumventing their silence on their citizens’ use of the internet and giving them a voice, which may or may not be an advantage for the U.S.
At its center, the State Department’s drive for internet freedom is a campaign to allow people around the world the opportunity to express themselves using the media that the free world often takes for granted. If this encourages something else, that is up for the users to decide, but making sure that everyone has the ability to use the internet freely should be at the core of human rights dialogue in the 21st century.
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State