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Baer On Internet Freedom

Chinese youth use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing. (file)

"The United States champions Internet freedom because it derives from universal and cherished rights."

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Daniel Baer testified recently before the U.S. Helsinki Commission in Washington on ensuring a free and open Internet within the regions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"The United States champions Internet freedom because it derives from universal and cherished rights — the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association," Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer said. "An open Internet gives people a neutral platform from which to express their legitimate aspirations and shape their own destiny. We believe that people in every country deserve to be able to take part in building a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic society."

Twenty years ago, in response to efforts by the Ceausescu regime in Romania to restrict citizens’ access to Xerox machines, a commitment was pledged in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Copenhagen Document that "no limitation will be imposed on access to, and use of, means of reproducing documents of any kind." Today, email, social networking and text messaging are the new Xerox machines, as well as indispensible tools of commerce, education, and global communications.

"Some governments are using advanced technologies to chill free expression, to stifle dissent, to identify and arrest dissidents," Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer said. "Through our diplomacy and through direct support for embattled activists worldwide, we are helping people stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the brutes who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online."

By the end of 2011, the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development will have allocated $70 million in direct support for activists on the front lines of the struggle against Internet repression. "Our programming responds to the most urgent priorities we hear from activists on the ground – including embattled democracy and human rights activists from countries [in the] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer said, citing Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as examples of countries where activists face hostile environments on the Internet.

"In the 21st Century, men and women everywhere are increasingly turning to the Internet and other connection technologies to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms," Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer concluded. "States have an enduring responsibility to respect these principles [enshrined at the core of the Helsinki Final Act and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and their responsibility extends into the Digital Age."