May 23, 2011

Internet Freedom: A Foreign Policy Imperative in the Digital Age

From Egypt to Tunisia to Iran, the world has borne witness to the power of the Internet and new digital tools used to communicate across borders, organize protests, topple some dictators and possibly strengthen others – actions that all affect U.S. foreign policy. A new CNAS report released today Internet Freedom: A Foreign Policy Imperative in the Digital Age, examines Internet freedom through the lens of American foreign policy and explores two central questions: What does access to an open Internet mean for U.S. foreign policy, and what should the United States do about it?

Download Internet Freedom: A Foreign Policy Imperative in the Digital Age.

In Internet Freedom, authors Richard Fontaine and Will Rogers define “Internet freedom,” distinguishing between freedom of the Internet and freedom via the Internet; explore the U.S. foreign policy interest in preserving an open Internet; and argue that the United States should actively promote Internet freedom, in light of its potential to aid those seeking democratic political change and because doing so accords with America’s deepest values. The authors propose a comprehensive set of principles and policy recommendations that should comprise a robust Internet freedom strategy, one that balances competing foreign policy, economic and national security priorities and that leverages the potential of the private sector.

“We live in a time when an application like Facebook, designed in 2004 for American university students to share information has, in 2011, helped topple a dictator in Egypt,” write the authors. “Though the debate [surrounding Internet freedom] is complicated, the longstanding American commitment to basic human rights and freedoms should remain clear. And on that basis, the United States has a responsibility to promote Internet freedom, which is key to ensuring a greater degree of human liberty in an ever-more contested space.”

Co-author Richard Fontaine will discuss this report and take questions via Twitter @CNASdc during the CNAS Fifth Annual Conference on June 2. Watch the conference live at

The Center for a New American Security would like to thank the John Templeton Foundation and the Markle Foundation for their support of its study of Internet freedom and American foreign policy.