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Hillary Clinton champions Internet freedom, but cautions on WikiLeaks

In a policy address, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls Internet freedom of expression a vital agent of change. But security is still important, she adds, calling WikiLeaks documents 'stolen.'

By Staff writer / February 15, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her speech, Internet Rights And Wrongs: Choices & Challenges In A Networked World, on Tuesday, at George Washington University in Washington.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP


Shucking her governmental surroundings for the halls of academia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a tightly-scripted speech Tuesday on the power, promise, and perils of the Internet, a force whose potential to influence world affairs has been evident in the pro-democracy movement sweeping the Middle East.

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In a multi-layered speech at George Washington University, Secretary Clinton also took the opportunity to clearly state the Obama administration position on the WikiLeaks saga, calling the leaked documents "stolen" and saying their publication raises serious questions about how to balance freedom of speech with legitimate security needs.

"Without security, liberty is fragile," she said. "Without liberty, security is oppressive."

Clinton’s speech, titled “Internet rights and wrongs: choices and challenges in a networked world,” was framed with a compelling account of the vital role of “connection” technology, as she dubbed it, in bringing about social and political change in Tunisia and Egypt.

She also dwelt on the repressive governments that have attempted to squelch Internet freedoms as a means to hold back free political expression, ticking off a laundry list of offenders. This rogue’s gallery includes everyone from Cuba – currently in the throes of trying to replace a genuine Internet with a government-controlled “intranet” – to the “awful” Iran as it cracks down on protesters and uses social media to hunt down its opponents.

Calling the Internet the “public space” of the future – a vital, global town square in which everyone shares an equal interest – Clinton enumerated all the reasons that freedom of expression must be the overriding ethos of this worldwide landscape. The cure for hate speech, she said, is “more speech,” not suppressed speech. She also described what she called the ultimate futility of a separation between the economic Internet and the “everything else Internet.”

Without question, the speech was an opportunity for the US to deliver a forceful message as the turmoil in the Middle East continues to unfold, says intellectual property attorney Scott Austin, a partner in the Miami office of Gordon & Rees and a consultant for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the governing body for Internet protocols.


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