February 15, 2011 | By Richard Esguerra

Secretary Clinton Unveils New Funding for Activism Technology, Rhetorical Refresh in Internet Freedom Speech

Earlier today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a speech about Internet freedom titled, "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges In A Networked World." In her remarks, Clinton built on prior statements about the U.S. Government's commitment to a free and open Internet, responding in part to the uprisings in the Middle East and Cablegate — major, ongoing international developments adding to the swell of debate about the parameters of Internet freedom.

Notably, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department plans to award $25 million in grants to technology, tools, and training projects that support Internet freedom. Moreover, the State Department appears to be committed to diversity in the projects it awards, with Secretary Clinton stating, "We support multiple tools, so if repressive governments figure out how to target one, others are at the ready." We hope to see that commitment to diversity translate into real improvement for the best tools for online anonymity, circumvention of censorship, and the technologies that help protect lives and move ideas throughout the world.

Otherwise, while Secretary Clinton argued strongly against authoritarian regimes' attempts to control information on the Internet, she mostly steered clear of addressing the more complicated concerns about private companies and their roles and responsibilities in protecting freedom of expression on the Internet. For example, Clinton strongly criticized ironhanded tactics like jailing bloggers, filtering the Internet, and surveilling citizens through social networks. And she did touch upon the formative discussions that companies are having about corporate social responsibility and human rights. But her speech fell short of addressing the opportunities for corporations to provide meaningful protection for individuals' rights online, especially when those companies export surveillance technologies to autocratic regimes.

At times, the speech felt like a case of the right-hand of the government being unaware of the left-hand's doings. For every strong statement about preserving liberty, freedom of expression, and privacy on the global Internet, there exists a countervailing example of the United States attempting to undermine those same values: government domain name seizures, rubber-stamping of PATRIOT Act provisions in the face of widespread government abuse of national security letters, government attempts to obtain Twitter account records about three individuals in connection with its WikiLeaks investigation, and more.

Ethan Zuckerman has published an interesting analysis of Clinton's speech, and more strong articles will surely emerge in the coming days. Stay tuned to Deeplinks and the EFF Twitter feed for more Internet freedom updates.


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