Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner for of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor today stressed that the United States has made Internet freedom a foreign policy priority.
In his remarks at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership, Mr. Posner highlighted that the U.S. Congress has given the U.S. State Department $70 million to fund technology, training and policy advocacy for Internet freedom around the world.
“We’ve funded a wide range of programs and trainings aimed at keeping activists in the most repressive environments safe, including a number of Syrians who tell us they are using what they learned in the current struggle for political freedom.” -Mr. Posner
Mr. Posner outlined three trends that are of deep concern to the United States in terms of internet freedom.
“We are confronting the increasing attempts by some governments to control their citizens’ peaceful online activities. Under international human rights law, people have the right to express themselves, and I quote, “through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Yet interference from states continues in endlessly nefarious and inventive forms.” -Mr. Posner
He cited that the Committee to Protect Journalists has done an excellent job tracking these tactics, from illicit surveillance and hacking, to offline intimidation of bloggers, to total Internet shutdown.
“The Obama administration has staked out a principled stand by arguing that the rights to free expression, assembly and association apply to online activity just as they do to offline activity. Although it may be more difficult to enforce certain rights in the Digital Age, as authors, artists and inventors are discovering.” -Mr. Posner
He stressed that the principles are the same. He said one don’t break into a movie theater and steal the film reels, and one doesn’t have the right to steal movies online, either.
“We are seeing a growing number of repressive regimes get hold of the latest, greatest Western technologies and use them to spy on their own citizens for the purpose of quashing peaceful political dissent or even information that would allow citizens to know what is happening in their communities.” -Mr. Posner
He cited that journalists, bloggers and activists are of course primary targets. He said there are no easy solutions, because of course the United States wants people in every country to have access to the newest connection technologies, including people in repressive places.
He stressed that the U.S. government wants to allow its tech industry a free reign for innovation, avoiding onerous regulations as much as they can. He added that the use of such technologies by repressive governments to suppress fundamental rights and freedoms is an ongoing concern.