State's Approach to Internet Freedom

As I wrote last week, "OMG Twitter Revolution!" has been one of the major narratives-- if not THE major narrative-- in the American media since the popular revolts Tunisia and Egypt. As I also wrote, while social media, mobile phones, and the internet undoubtably played a role in helping civil society in those countries coalesce around ideas and bring people into the streets, it's very tempting to overstate the role of technology in all of this. Rebecca MacKinnon reminds the tech-happy among us that while the tools were vital, the courageous people of Egypt and Tunisia are the ones who deserve the credit for toppling their regimes.

A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech arguing that the ability to connect to the internet-- and the ability to exercise free expression, assembly and commerce on the web-- should be considered an essential freedom in the 21st century, and essential to supporting other basic freedoms. Since her groundbreaking speech, the State Department has made gradual progress putting those very big ideas into practice. While State policy on internet freedom didn't have much to do with the insurrections in North Africa, recent events can help us understand how, exactly, the internet can bring about freer societies (this was the subject of my essay last week), and help inform State's efforts.  The agency has been wise to tread slowly in such uncharted territory.

Continuing to establish State's approach to these issues, Secretary Clinton will speak tomorrow at George Washington University, giving an address called "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges in a Networked World." Not much indication of what she'll be saying, but it should certainly be an interesting talk. The speech will be live webcast, starting at 12:30; you can tune in here