As I listened live to Secretary Clinton’s remarks this morning on Internet freedom, two things in particular jumped out at me. One was her statement that countries or individuals who curtail free expression or engage in cyberattacks should “face consequences and international condemnation.” The other was her call to American companies to undertake a “principled stand” against complying with a country’s censorship requirements as the price for being allowed to do business there. Clinton wasn’t just referring to the current disagreement between Google Corporation and China.
She argued that it is in every publicly listed company’s interest, not just those from the United States, to resist restrictions for the sake of immediate business interests. Investors will ultimately lose confidence if they know that corporate decision-makers don’t have unhindered access to all the news and information that is available. “From an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech,” and the denial of either “inevitably impact on growth,” she warned.
Clinton’s ideas, if implemented, can greatly help cyberspace continue as a platform where people can freely air their ideas and interact online with whomever they wish, and put political and economic pressure on the countries who are currently censoring 31 percent of the world’s population.
Putting it succinctly, Clinton said the ultimate question is over “whether we live on a planet with one Internet, one global community and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.”
The Internet’s social networks are already demonstrating their ability to mobilize huge numbers of people in record time, and that potential can only increase as more and more get connected. As Clinton said, one of the lessons of the 20th century’s Cold War is that it is “very hard to keep information out.”
But instead of the old “Iron Curtain,” an “information curtain” is descending on much of the world as censorship practices increase. She said viral videos and blog posts have become “the samizdat of our day.”
Ensuring a free Internet will require not only broad agreement by the international community, in the form of universal norms and guarantees, but also cooperation from the business world, whose investment and participation is vital to helping development and continued economic growth.
Is that kind of cooperation out there? What do you think would motivate companies to take a “principled stand” and not comply with censorship requirements as the price for doing business in some countries?