Today Hillary Clinton delivered a tough and much-needed speech on Internet freedom, indicating that the Obama administration is viewing this as a vital human-rights issue:
“We believe that governments who have erected barriers to internet freedom — whether they’re technical filters or censorship regimes or attacks on those who exercise their rights to expression and assembly online — will eventually find themselves boxed in,” Clinton said.
“They’ll face a dictator’s dilemma, and have to 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.
The massive role that social-networking sites played in the uprisings in the Arab world has been discussed exhaustively by commentators, but the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to stress the importance of Internet freedom.
This needs to change — especially since online collaboration between the youth demonstrators in Egypt and the ones in Tunisia may have been even more extensive than previously thought, according to a New York Times article yesterday. Not only did the democratic activists swap practical protest tips; they also modeled their ideas on the philosophy of American political thinker Gene Sharp:
The exchange on Facebook was part of a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Young Egyptian and Tunisian activists brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades. …
Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley.
If the Obama administration is serious about pushing democratic reforms in the Arab world, a push for greater Internet freedom needs to be a priority. Clinton’s speech today is a good sign that the administration may be making it a bigger focus.