Human rights must be as respected online as offline, said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a recent Internet conference in the Netherlands. "After all, the right to express one's views, practice one's faith, peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change – these are all rights to which all human beings are entitled whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an internet chat room."
Securing internet rights is an urgent task. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists of all the writers, editors, and photojournalists now imprisoned around the world, nearly half are online reporters. In both Syria and Iran, other online activists have been detained, imprisoned, beaten and even killed for expressing their views and organizing their fellow citizens. And in Russia, well-known blogger Alexei Navalny was sentenced this month to 15 days in jail after he took part in protests over the Russian elections.
The struggle for a free internet belongs not only to those on the front lines who are suffering. Companies have a responsibility to stand up to government attempts to seize greater control of the internet. Businesses should make it policy not to sell surveillance equipment to oppressive governments. As Secretary Clinton said, "Part of the responsible corporate management in the 21st century is doing human rights due diligence on new markets, instituting internal review procedures, identifying principles by which decisions are to be made in tough situations."
Governments must also resist the urge to clamp down on internet freedom. Some governments want to have all the control by cutting out civil society and the private sector; they also want to empower each individual government to make their own rules for the internet that not only undermine human rights and the free flow of information but also the interoperability of the network. This would be disastrous for internet freedom.
The United States will continue to work hard to get around every internet barrier that repressive governments put up because the U.S. believes that an open internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous and freer countries.