U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled Thursday that freedom to access uncensored information on the Internet is now a priority of U.S. foreign policy while also urging the Chinese government to openly share its findings in an investigation of a recent cyber attack on Google.
"In the last year, we've seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the Internet. In Vietnam, access to popular social networking sites has suddenly disappeared. And last Friday in Egypt, 30 bloggers and activists were detained," Clinton said in a speech on Internet freedom in Washington D.C.
Clinton said such governmental actions "contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right 'to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.'"
Borrowing from the Cold War-era concept of an Iron Curtain separating Soviet-backed communist states from open market societies, Clinton characterized restrictive Internet policies in various countries as "a new Information Curtain ... descending across much of the world."
Clinton also addressed an ongoing dispute between China and Mountain View, Calif.-based Google over both censorship of the search giant's Chinese language Web portal and last week's allegation by Google that Chinese authorities were hacking into the Gmail accounts of human rights activists.
Google last week threatened to shut down its operations in China and said it would no longer go along with censoring results on Google.cn, which the company agreed to do as part of its launch of the search site in China in January 2006.
"The most recent situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest and we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement," Clinton said Thursday.
She called for "that investigation and its results to be transparent," but stopped short of presenting China with an outright demand and closed with conciliatory language towards the Chinese government.
"The United States and China have different views on this issue. And we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship," Clinton said.
The Secretary allowed that information technology is "not an unmitigated blessing," citing the use of the Internet by groups like al Qaeda "to spew hatred and incite violence against the innocent." But she made the case that the benefits of information freedom for both humanitarian and economic progress far outweighed such concerns.
"We feel strongly that principles like information freedom aren't just good policy, not just somehow connected to our national values, but they are universal and they are also good for business," Clinton said.
"Countries that censor news and information must recognize that, from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech. If businesses in your nations are denied access to either type of information, it will inevitably impact on growth."