Journalists around the world continue to put their lives at risk in an effort to keep the public informed and government officials accountable. Much of that work now takes place on the Internet. Thousands of journalists and bloggers are forming the front lines of democratic movements for change – from the Middle East to Latin America.
But a parallel trend is at work. Just as citizen journalists discover their voices on and offline, some governments are increasing their control and monitoring of online activity. Today, threats to freedom of expression, assembly, and association go beyond direct censorship. No longer limited to firewalls, Internet repression has taken on new forms: websites are shut down in cyber attacks; social media accounts are hacked; mobile phones are monitored; and individuals are tortured for their pass words in order to access entire networks. Through each of these actions, citizen voices are silenced and activism stunted.
The United States has made Internet freedom a diplomatic priority, raising the issue with other governments and in international forums. The U.S. has also provided over 70 million dollars to fund technology, policy advocacy, and training to keep activists in the most repressive environments safe, including a number of Syrians who say they are using what they learned in the current struggle for political freedom.
The U.S. is deeply concerned by the growing attempts by some governments to control their citizens' peaceful online activities. Repressive regimes are increasingly getting a hold of the latest technologies and using them to spy on their own people in an effort to quash political dissent.
Last month, in New York, the governments of China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan came to the United Nations to suggest the need for an International Code of Conduct for Information Security. Were such a code to be enacted, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, "it would almost inevitably erode media freedoms. And it would shift cyberspace away from being people driven to a system dominated by centralized government control."
The United States wants people in every country to be free to exchange ideas, access information, and express opinions without fear of reprisal or violence from their government. Now is the time for a global commitment to protect our fundamental freedoms online.