May 10, 2012

Internet Freedom Is a Human Right

Sometimes it's called "information security." Other times, it's called "Internet management," or a "hate-free Internet." Whatever the code-name for it, too many foreign governments, including Syria, Iran and China, restrict Internet as a tool for suppressing free speech, free assembly and a free press.

Though the United States has invested tens of millions of dollars in defending Internet freedom around the world in recent years -- including by equipping censored populations with technologies to evade digital repression -- we can and must do more to ensure Internet freedom remains a fundamental tenet of U.S. foreign policy.

With nearly one-third of mankind -- some two billion people -- now online, the Internet has clearly become the public square of the 21st century. It is where ideas are exchanged, viewpoints are debated, and commerce takes place, and in this modern, networked world, we must ensure the right to free expression is as protected online as they are offline.

There is deep bipartisan support in Congress for robust U.S. engagement to secure digital freedom around the world. In fact, the Senate Global Internet Freedom Caucus, led by Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and myself, and the House Global Internet Freedom Caucus, led by Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.) are teaming up today with the Center for a New American Security for a discussion of U.S. policy to promote Internet freedom globally.

The Internet can be used as a tool of liberation, as we saw in revolutions that swept the Arab world last spring, or of repression, as we continue to witness in places such as Iran and China. Popular movements and entrenched governments both clearly see how the unique power of the Internet can spread democratic ideas and demands for human rights and basic freedoms.

These fundamental values, which should be granted to citizens around the world as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are central to who we are as Americans.

We must continue to pursue an American foreign policy that protects the "right to connect" as a U.S. foreign policy priority. The Senate Global Internet Freedom Caucus advocates for the promotion of policies that promotes rights of all people to use the Internet and other forms of technology to exercise basic freedoms globally. In order to achieve this goal, we must engage with governments, individuals, and the private sector to preserve the Internet as an open platform for commerce and communication.

Led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this administration has recognized the "right to connect" as a fundamental human right, and the American people have already made a significant investment of more than $70 million since 2008 in protecting and promoting Internet freedom globally. This funding has supported a number of projects, including the development of censorship-circumvention technology, cyber self-defense training, and equipping people to evade repression.

Despite remarkable innovations in technology, there is more work to be done, as restrictions to Internet access and online censorship, manipulation, and monitoring continue to rise around the world. U.S. global leadership is critical if we are to make progress in this area, and we cannot be hampered by the false perception that global Internet freedom is at odds with domestic cyber security measures and the protection of intellectual property. In fact, these policies can and should complement each other. We can implement vigorous standards to protect intellectual property and network security while still wholeheartedly supporting Internet freedom globally.

Internet freedom -- the freedom to exchange thought, opinion, expression, and association to meet political, social, education, or religious objectives -- should not be restricted for law-abiding citizens in the United States or anywhere in the world. Advancing this right in repressive regimes across the globe must be a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy in the 21st century. As with all great moral challenges we face as an international community, continued American leadership and engagement is essential if we are to succeed.