News / USA

US Government Works to Break Down Virtual Walls

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., 21 January, on the foreign policy issue of Internet freedom
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., 21 January, on the foreign policy issue of Internet freedom

The U.S. government is making free speech in cyber space a key part of American foreign policy in a fresh bid to reach out to Internet users around the world.

Experts say the push not only highlights the growing influence of the Internet and its power to pressure even the most tightly controlled governments, but it also seeks to shed light on the link between economic growth and Internet freedoms.

In a speech earlier this year on Internet Freedom, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called information networks the planet's new nervous system. "Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable," said the secretary.

A Voice for the Voiceless
The Internet often is increasingly giving voice to the voiceless.

Last June, mobile phone footage of a young Iranian woman's shooting shocked people around the world and galvanized opposition protesters as they rallied against election results in Iran.

During Burma's 2007 uprisings, amateur video and photographs of protests and the government's crackdown spread around the world over the Internet.

The Center for Democracy and Technology’s Cynthia Wong says Washington has put the world on notice that it considers freedom of expression on the Web a core value.

"We think it is really historic.  It is the first time really that global Internet freedom has been elevated to that level,” says Wong. “It really showed a recognition that preserving Internet freedom is absolutely necessary for a whole range of foreign policy goals, from protecting human rights to promoting economic development."

Audio extras
Wong: Google had eyes wide open (:57)
MacKinnon: The Great Firewall of China (2:22)
MacKinnon: Internet freedom in China (2:52)


Google vs. China

Google has become a popular search engine in China, but their entry and possible exit from that market are controversial
Google has become a popular search engine in China, but their entry and possible exit from that market are controversial

The push for Internet freedom occurs during a showdown between Google and China.  The Internet search engine cites a recent cyber attack on its infrastructure that originated in China and increasing government censorship.  Chinese authorities counter that Google must obey Chinese laws.

Beijing accuses Washington of trying to impose Internet imperialism and sees Google as part of that effort.

Internet specialist Rebecca MacKinnon says it is not that simple. "One thing is very clear from the chatter I see on Chinese blogs, and also from just what people in China tell me, is that Google is much more popular among China's Internet users than the United States,” says MacKinnon, who currently is a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy.

“People feel a great deal more loyalty, they feel emotionally more connected to Google in a way that is, shall we say more purely positive, than the way they feel about the United States, which is much more conflicted," she adds.

Responses from Chinese Internet users has varied, with some placing flowers outside the company's headquarters in Beijing and others posting blogs bidding the company good riddance.

Google Situation Heats up Debate

Stephen Yates, the president of D.C. Asia Advisory, a business and public policy consultant group, says the situation with Google has only helped heat up the debate for free speech in cyber space.

“It is one thing for the world to think that the Chinese government is onerous and intruding on the lives of its citizens,” says Yates. “The fact that it is willing and capable to do it to almost anyone who has a political heart beating in the world is a much bigger threat than they wanted to convey.”

Yates says that over the coming year cyber security and Internet freedom is going to be a defining issue for Washington and Congress. And while such additional attention from Washington is likely to push authoritarian country’s to tighten their cyber controls even more, MacKinnon notes there are limits to how far authoritarian governments can go.

“And so this is one of the issues, is how far can you go before you turn your Internet into an Intranet, asks MacKinnon.  “And if you have an Intranet, and your Internet is not sufficiently connected to the outside world, can you be a world economic powerhouse?”

The power of the Internet to spread information, even when governments try to suppress it, prompted the Obama administration to announce recently that Internet companies can now export services to Cuba, Sudan, and Iran, despite a ban against other types of trade.

Secretary Clinton argues that from an economic standpoint, there is no difference between censoring political speech and commercial speech, because, as she puts it, there is a direct link between online freedom and economic growth.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs