Today's date:
Winter 2011

Collage of Comment

The Interconnected Estate

Eric Schmidt is the CEO of Google. Jared Cohen heads Google Ideas.

Mountain View, Calif.—The advent and power of connection technologies—tools that connect people to vast amounts of information and to one another—will make the 21st century all about surprises. Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority. For the media, reporting will increasingly become a collaborative enterprise between traditional news organizations and the quickly growing number of citizen journalists. And technology companies will find themselves outsmarted by their competition and surprised by consumers who have little loyalty and no patience.

Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s population has access to some combination of cell phones (five billion users) and the Internet (two billion). These people communicate within and across borders, forming virtual communities that empower citizens at the expense of governments. New intermediaries make it possible to develop and distribute content across old boundaries, lowering barriers to entry. Whereas the traditional press is called the fourth estate, this space might be called the “interconnected estate”—a place where any person with access to the Internet, regardless of living standard or nationality, is given a voice and the power to effect change.

For the world’s most powerful states, the rise of the interconnected estate will create new opportunities for growth and development, as well as huge challenges to established ways of governing. Connection technologies will carve out spaces for democracy as well as autocracy and empower individuals for both good and ill. States will vie to control the impact of technologies on their political and economic power.

—Foreign Affairs


Internet Freedom Is Our National Brand

The following comments are excerpted from remarks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Internet freedom at the New Museum in Washington in January, 2010.

Washington—The spread of information networks is forming a new nervous system for our planet. In many respects, information has never been so free. There are more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in history. And even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable. As President Obama has said, the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become.

Amid this unprecedented surge in connectivity, we must also recognize that these technologies are not an unmitigated blessing. These tools are also being exploited to undermine human progress and political rights. Just as steel can be used to build hospitals or machine guns, or nuclear power can either energize a city or destroy it, modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for ill. The same networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable al-Qaida to spew hatred and incite violence against the innocent. And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.

So while it is clear that the spread of these technologies is transforming our world, it is still unclear how that transformation will affect the human rights and the human welfare of the world’s population. On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does.

We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic.

Today, we find an urgent need to protect these freedoms on the digital frontiers of the 21st century. There are many other networks in the world. Some aid in the movement of people or resources, and some facilitate exchanges between individuals with the same work or interests. But the Internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms.

Freedom of expression is first among them. This freedom is no longer defined solely by whether citizens can go into the town square and criticize their government without fear of retribution. Blogs, e-mails, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas and created new targets for censorship. But history itself has already condemned these tactics.

I was in Germany last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The leaders gathered at that ceremony paid tribute to the courageous men and women on the far side of that barrier who made the case against oppression by circulating small pamphlets called samizdat. Their words helped pierce the concrete and concertina wire of the Iron Curtain. The Berlin Wall symbolized a world divided and it defined an entire era. Today the new iconic infrastructure of our age is the Internet. Instead of division, it stands for connection. But even as networks spread to nations around the globe, virtual walls are cropping up in place of visible walls.

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names and phrases from search-engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day.

THE DARK SIDE | We have every reason to be hopeful about what people can accomplish when they leverage communication networks and connection technologies to achieve progress. But make no mistake—some are and will continue to use global information networks for darker purposes. Violent extremists, criminal cartels, sexual predators, and authoritarian governments all seek to exploit these global networks. Just as terrorists have taken advantage of the openness of our societies to carry out their plots, violent extremists use the Internet to radicalize and intimidate. As we work to advance freedoms, we must also work against those who use communication networks as tools of disruption and fear.

Governments and citizens must have confidence that the networks at the core of their national security and economic prosperity are safe and resilient. This is about more than petty hackers who deface websites. Our ability to bank online, use electronic commerce, and safeguard billions of dollars in intellectual property are all at stake if we cannot rely on the security of our information networks.

Disruptions in these systems demand a coordinated response by all governments, the private sector, and the international community. We need more tools to help law enforcement agencies cooperate across jurisdictions when criminal hackers and organized crime syndicates attack networks for financial gain.

The same is true when social ills such as child pornography and the exploitation of trafficked women and girls online are there for the world to see and for those who exploit these people to make a profit.

THE FREEDOM TO CONNECT | America stands for the freedom to connect —the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the Internet, to websites or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together and hopefully cooperate.

Our foreign policy is premised on the idea that no country more than America stands to benefit when there is cooperation among peoples and states. And no country shoulders a heavier burden when conflict and misunderstanding drive nations apart. So we are well placed to seize the opportunities that come with interconnectivity. And as the birthplace for so many of these technologies, including the Internet itself, we have a responsibility to see them used for good.

GOOGLE VS. CHINA | The situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest. We look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement. And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent. The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century.

The United States and China have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship. Ultimately, this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It’s about whether we live on a planet with one Internet, one global community and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors. Information freedom supports the peace and security that provides a foundation for global progress.

Historically, asymmetrical access to information is one of the leading causes of interstate conflict. When we face serious disputes or dangerous incidents, it’s critical that people on both sides of the problem have access to the same set of facts and opinions. As it stands, Americans can consider information presented by foreign governments. We do not block their attempts to communicate with the people in the US. But citizens in societies that practice censorship lack exposure to outside views. In North Korea, for example, the government has tried to completely isolate its citizens from outside opinions. This lopsided access to information increases both the likelihood of conflict and the probability that small disagreements could escalate.

I hope that responsible governments with an interest in global stability will work with us to address such imbalances. For companies, this issue is about more than claiming the moral high ground. It really comes down to the trust between firms and their customers. Consumers everywhere want to have confidence that the Internet companies they rely on will provide comprehensive search results and act as responsible stewards of their own personal information. Firms that earn the confidence of those countries and basically provide that kind of service will prosper in the global marketplace.

Those who lose the confidence of their customers will eventually lose customers. No matter where you live, people want to believe that what they put into the Internet is not going to be used against them. And censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere.

American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand. I’m confident that consumers worldwide will reward companies that follow those principles. We cannot stand by while people are separated from the human family by walls of censorship.


The Internet Should Be a Protected International Space

Bernard Kouchner is the former foreign minister of France.

Paris—The Internet must be granted the legal status that reflects its universality. That status must recognize it as a protected international space so that it will be more difficult for repressive governments to use the sovereignty argument against fundamental freedoms.

This is a critical issue. The battle of ideas has started with, on one side, the advocates of a universal and open Internet, based on freedom of expression and freedom of association, on tolerance and respect for privacy, and, on the other side, those who want to transform the Internet into a multitude of spaces that are closed off from each other to serve the purposes of a regime, propaganda and all forms of fanaticism.

Freedom of expression is “the foundation of all other freedoms.” Without it, there are no “free nations,” Voltaire said. This spirit of the Enlightenment, which is universal, should run through the new media. The defense of fundamental freedoms and human rights must be the priority for governance of the Internet. It is everyone’s business.


For A Public Eye on Abuse

Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks. He made these comments to Time Magazine in December.

Organizations which are abusive need to be in the public eye. They then have two choices: One is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavors and proud to display them to the public. The other is to lock down internally and to balkanize and as a result cease to be as efficient as they were.

To me, that is a very good outcome because organizations can either be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient.

This organization practices civil obedience. That is, we are an organization that tries to make the world more civil and act against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction.

If you want to talk about the law, it’s very important to remember the law is not just simply what powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is.