U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a major policy speech at Washington DCs Newseum yesterday, outlining the United State’s policy position towards Internet freedom and pulling few punches in criticizing states and regimes that exercise censorship and control over Internet access and content within their borders, characterizing those nations as attempted to construct an “Information Curtain” that harks back to the Cold War’s Iron Curtain. Clinton specifically called out Internet censorship operations in Tunisian, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and—of course—China, which runs the world’s most comprehensive Internet censorship operation.
Clinton noted that “technology does not take sides,” repeatedly characterized Internet freedoms in Cold War terms, and stated flatly that the United States is deeply committed to fighting for free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble online, and that the United States would support technologies that enable those goals—including technology intended to help people bypass government-mandated Internet censorship.
Clinton’s policy speech is, of course, in the context of Google and other companies being targeted by cyberattacks in China, seemingly with the intent of accessing information about Chinese human rights activists. In an unusually outraged move, Google says it wants to stop censoring search results on its Chinese search engine, and has even threatened to withdraw from the Chinese market.
Although China itself has had comparatively little to say about the Google situation—basically asserting that companies doing business in China must obey Chinese laws—the Chinese Foreign Ministry wasted little time responding to Clinton’s Internet freedoms policy speech, saying Clinton’s stance damages relations between China and the West. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu characterized China’s Internet as “open,” and asserted that the United States government was using cries for Internet freedoms as a cover to level “baseless accusations” against the Chinese government. Opinion makers in Chinese media—which, of course, is heavily monitored and controlled by government authorities—polemicize the issue even more, characterizing Western nations’ calls for Internet freedoms as little more than cultural imperialism.
Regardless of how the current situation with Google in China resolves, Clinton’s policy speech for the first time put online and Internet freedoms into play as a component of the United States’ broader foreign policy platform.