Obama Administration Urged to Promote and Protect Internet Freedom

Washington, D.C. – Tomorrow, as internet activists around the world celebrate “Internet Freedom Day” to mark the one-year anniversary of an internet blackout to protest controversial anti-piracy legislation, Human Rights First calls on the Obama Administration to recommit to protecting and expanding internet freedom across the globe.

“Three years ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a landmark address in which she outlined her vision of ‘one Internet’: one that allows for free speech, free flow of information, and privacy rights to netizens all over the world,” said Human Rights First’s Meg Roggensack. “Since then, that vision of ‘one Internet’ has been and remains under attack. Many governments still view the Internet and access to it as a threat.  As President Obama begins his second term, his administration should step up its leadership to promote the use of the Internet as a tool in global trade, investment, communications, banking, development, and aid.

Human Rights First recently released How to Protect and Expand Internet Freedom: Blueprint for the Next Administration, a document that outlines concrete steps President Obama should take to promote internet freedom. That blueprint notes that dozens of governments track the online activity of their citizens, particularly political activists and human rights defenders. These governments pass censorship laws to force multinational Internet Service Providers to block or remove content with unacceptable disregard for freedom of expression. Particularly egregious examples have been seen in Egypt in 2011, when President Mubarak order the “off switch” following unrest in Tahrir Square, and the Iranian migration of its entire population away from the global Internet and onto an internal system.

“The rapid development of the Internet presents profound opportunities and challenges for U.S. interests around the world, particularly around the promotion and protection of human rights,” observed Roggensack. “The Internet is the steward of our economic, social, and political activity, but clearly the Internet itself is not the advocate for its possibilities: governments are. Now the Obama Administration must follow through on its promise to ensure a free and open Internet for all.”

Among the key recommendations outlined in Human Rights First’s blueprint are the following:

  • A declaration by the president that recognizes and defines the full breadth of global interests in promoting Internet freedom.
  • A review of existing U.S. government policies and programs to ensure they advance U.S. goals, maximize opportunities to promote the “one Internet” vision, and are self-reinforcing. Adjust those that are inconsistent with or undermine each other to create the most productive balance of interests.
  • Coordination of U.S. government policieis to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of Internet freedom initiatives around the world.
  • Continuation and further development of capacity-building initiatives for Internet users, democracy and human rights activists, foreign officials, and foreign parliamentarians to increase protection of Internet freedom through enhanced technology, expertise and skills building, and legal frameworks.
  • Partnering with the ICT sector and a broad community of stakeholders to promote improved identification and management of threats to freedom of expression and privacy online.
  • An examination of the consequences of imposing intellectual property regimes and other well-developed legal concepts on countries that lack equally well-developed legal traditions and institutions.

Published on January 17, 2013


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