Is US Promoting Internet Freedom as Means of Promoting ‘Regime Change’?

Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner for Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor today said the United States doesn’t promote Internet freedom or connective technologies as a means of promoting “regime change.”

In his remarks to the State of the Net Conference, Mr. Posner underlined that the United States promotes the freedoms of expression, association and assembly online and offline because these universal freedoms are the birthright of every individual.

A closeup of one of the booklets distributed during the event, Twenty years on from the Windhoek Declaration: Freedom of the press in a changed world, held in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), Switzerland.UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

“Human rights and human dignity are not bestowed upon people by groups or governments, and no government should feel empowered to deny them. It is up to every individual – and therefore the people of every country – to decide how to exercise them.” -Mr. Posner

He noted that the past year has highlighted the promise and the peril of the Internet as a transformative tool both for human expression and for repression.

“The Arab Awakening has been like a geopolitical earthquake sending aftershocks rumbling around the world. Repressive regimes trembled at the power of people connected, and redoubled their attempts to crack down.” -Mr. Posner

He said governments did it by jailing bloggers, hijacking Facebook pages, and, in the case of Iran, requiring cybercafes to install surveillance cameras. He said they managed to buy sophisticated technologies to sniff out digital dissidents and silence them.

“The Arab Awakening has upped the stakes further, most of all for activists trying to change repressive regimes from within.” -Mr. Posner

He cited that people are using technology as a battering ram against the walls of fear and isolation that dictatorships erect to keep their populations quiescent. He pointed outthat two billion networked users are nearly impossible to silence.

“So yes, the Internet is empowering. Yet we agree with Vincent Cerf, who wrote in an op-ed piece last month that Internet access is not itself a human right.” -Mr. Posner

He stressed that freedom of expression, assembly and association are human rights.He said technology can enable those rights. Technology is not a substitute for political organizing or advocacy or persuasion.

“The Internet does not bring people into the street. Grievances do. The Internet did not spark the Arab Spring. Injustice did. It’s worth noting that the Arab Spring did not start because of Twitter. It started because of the heartbreaking decision by one vegetable vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, to set himself ablaze.” -Mr. Posner

He noted that connective technologies are powerful tools for strengthening and amplifying the bonds between people and organizations – for good and for ill.

He cited that for the record that international law applies to online behavior. He said the world does not need to reinvent international human rights law, or enduring principles, to account for the Internet.

“No deed is more evil – or more noble – when it is committed online rather than offline. You can’t sell child pornography in Farragut Square or Tahrir Square, and you can’t sell it on the Internet, either. You can’t break into a theater and steal the movie reels and you can’t steal movies online, either. You can’t beat up and gag a peaceful protestor and you can’t jail her for a blog post criticizing a government policy, either.” -Mr. Posner

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.