WASHINGTON – A year ago,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton established the United States' commitment to Internet freedom during a speech at the Newseum,a museum about the news industry.
“We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” Clinton said on Jan. 21,2010. “Both the American people and nations that censor the Internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote Internet freedom.”
But a cache of leaked diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks less than a year later put Clinton's abstract speech to the test. The cables contained detailed and sometimes embarrassing information about foreign leaders.
“The U.S. seemed to be saying that other governments needed to be careful not to step over the freedom of expression line,” said Georgetown University Professor Mark MacCarthy at the State of the Net conference in Washington on Tuesday. “We're discovering,however,that these challenges are internal as well.”
Some scholars,such as Foreign Policy contributing editor Evgeny Morozov,argue that there were no reasonable connections between Clinton's speech and the U.S. government's domestic policies on the Internet.
“It became obvious during the government's response to WikiLeaks,which many people in the world took to be extremely hypocritical,” Morozov said Friday at the New America Foundation. Clinton denounced the release of the confidential cables during a press conference in November,saying,”There is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends.”
MacCarthy said a State Department spokesman explained that actions taken against WikiLeaks had nothing to do with Internet freedom because Internet freedom does not contradict the rule of law.
Helle Dale,a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington,agreed.
“I don't think there is a contradiction between having an Internet freedom policy and,at the same time,finding WikiLeaks to be a deplorable event,” Dale said. She pointed out the distinction between restricting persons from publishing privileged information and restricting their access to individual communication between private citizens,as is the case in countries such as China and Iran.
“They're not the same kind of transactions,” she said.