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Internet as Freedom Multiplier, Censor's Nightmare

Statement on Internet as Multiplier for Freedom and Censor's Nightmare

Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
Prepared Statement for Joint Hearing, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human
Rights, and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Asia and the
Pacific, Committee on International Relations
Washington, DC
February 15, 2006

Since its commercial launch a little over a decade ago, the Internet has proven to be the greatest purveyor of news and information in history. From a small band of university researchers sharing documents to more than a billion people connecting in real-time around the globe, the Internet has proven to be a force multiplier for freedom and a censor's nightmare. Repressive regimes have failed to fully restrict or block access to the Internet. Nevertheless, there are severe challenges to this openness. These challenges are our focus. It's a top priority for the State Department and for the U.S. Government to do all we can to ensure maximum access to information over the Internet and to ensure minimum success by censors attempting to silence legitimate debate in this global town hall.

The U.S. Government and the State Department have been on the forefront of the battle to ensure global access to information through the Internet. We do this bilaterally and multilaterally. My colleague, Jim Keith, will focus on our bilateral relationship with China. We have actively engaged in outreach to other countries to find common cause regarding this important matter. Multilaterially, we are engaged in many forums, most recently at the UN's World Summit on the Information Society to expand the rights of all people, no matter where they live, to have access to the free flow of information. As the Department has focused more energy on this issue, the Secretary has concluded that a task force would be a useful tool to make our strong advocacy even sharper and stronger. The Global Internet Freedom Task Force, announced yesterday, will draw upon State's expertise across many Bureaus, including international communications policy, human rights, democracy, business advocacy, corporate responsibility and, as appropriate, relevant countries and regions.

The task force will consider the foreign policy aspects of Internet freedom, including the use of technology to restrict access to political content and the impact of such censorship on U.S. companies, the use of technology to track and repress dissidents, and efforts to modify Internet governance structures in order to restrict the free flow of information. The task force will also look to ensure that our concerns are being raised at all levels with governments and international organizations.

We will also work with the private sector and NGOs to help address their concerns in meeting this challenge. The task force will, over the coming weeks and months, make recommendations to the Secretary on policy and diplomatic initiatives to maximize access to the Internet and to help minimize government efforts to block information. We will feed into a robust interagency process led by the NSC and NEC, including our partners at Commerce, Justice, USTR and other agencies.

Our goal in this area may be summarized by our desire to have more people have more access to more information everywhere.

This hearing is obviously an important part of this process. I am pleased with the recent, positive statements being made by Internet companies especially their willingness to work hard on the creation of global best practices. Of course, they too must do much more. Similarly, both in our conversations and in their public statements NGOs have been very helpful.

Six decades ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that, "Everyone has the right to information, to freedom of opinion and expression. And this includes the right to freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers." These rights were reaffirmed most recently at the UN's World Summit on the Information Society just this past November. We will work with all stakeholders, including of course the Congress to determine the best diplomatic and technological strategies to affirm these rights and practice.

Thank you.

Released on February 16, 2006


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