After Egypt, Secretary Clinton Takes on Internet Freedom

Over the past weeks, the world has watched as the Internet and social media played credible, if not vibrant, roles in the toppling of oppressive regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt. As an activist for the public health and human rights of females, frankly, I feel profound satisfaction just typing that last sentence because in both examples, the mass showed collective voice, power, and the strength to fight back -- and win -- even when access to the Internet was revoked.

Undoubtedly, momentum and solidarity arose from both in person and Internet discussions, then grew into collective action followed by formidable outcomes. No one can argue, however, access to technology can have profound social, economic, and political consequences. From public health to women's rights, texting, cell phones, and the Internet -- specifically, FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube -- are all tools that can potentially create a better future, a freer world, for all. In fact, the picture shown here reflects a young protester in Beirut with a mock ad showing both Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak "friending" one another via FaceBook. Both, of course, were recently ousted using some of these very social media tools to help force political upheaval.

This afternoon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke from Georgetown University about Internet freedom. She cited abundant examples of how profound the Internet has become due to the 3 billion people worldwide who are using it and hailed it "the world's town square, classroom, marketplace, coffee house, and nightclub."

Last year, Clinton gave a speech announcing the Internet as a top priority in foreign policy. Today she discussed that just "last week we [the U.S. Government] launched Twitter feeds in Arabic, and Farsi, adding to the ones we have in French and Spanish."

Clinton added, "We'll start similar ones in Chinese, Russian and Hindi. This is enabling us to have real-time two-way conversations with people wherever there is a connection that governments do not block."

But what about the governments that do block? Clinton singled out China, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, and Vietnam as countries that restrict access to the Internet or that arrest bloggers who speak out against their country's policies. Indeed, the Christian Science Monitor's Hillary Clinton's Plan to Topple Dictator's with an Open Internet was one of the most leading headlines of the day, because although Clinton adamantly supports the freedom of the Internet and made just realizations as to the impact the Internet has on our current and future world, she still acknowledged that the United States does not recognize a "silver bullet" approach. Yet, Clinton said after spending $20 million on funding already, an additional $25 million of supportive grants is forthcoming.

The Huffington Post highlighted one of Clinton's strongest assertions:
The Internet creates a 'dictator's dilemma' where oppressive regimes 'choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing -- which means both doubling down on a losing hand by resorting to greater oppression, and enduring the escalating opportunity cost of missing out on the ideas that have been blocked.'

Agence-France Press (AFP) reported that Clinton's speech came on the same day that "a US judge was holding a hearing in Virginia into a US government attempt to obtain information about the Twitter accounts of people connected with WikiLeaks."

Photo credit: Washington Post