Clinton: Internet Barriers Have ‘Moral, Political and Economic’ Costs

BY Larisa Epatko  February 15, 2011 at 2:14 PM EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took to task governments, including those in China, Myanmar and Iran, for curbing Internet freedoms of their citizens, while defending the Obama administration’s stance on the leaked WikiLeaks documents in a speech Tuesday.

Maintaining barriers on the Internet imposes moral, political and economic risks, Clinton said at George Washington University. In China, for example, many businesses agree to the country’s Internet restrictions in order to access markets for goods there, she said. “But those restrictions will have long-term costs.”

As a protester at the event was hauled out of the room by police, Clinton described the WikiLeaks release of thousands of State Department cables as starting with a “theft.”

“The fact that WikiLeaks used the Internet is not the reason we criticized its actions,” she said, adding that no one in the Obama administration directed private businesses to cut off WikiLeaks services.

Clinton said the U.S. government, while striving toward transparency cannot conduct all its activities in the open, but “must be judicious when we close off our work to the public” and constantly review its own actions.

“The Internet has become the public space of the 21st century,” she said. “We all shape what happens there … and that presents a challenge.” Protecting private communications and preventing Internet repression are two such challenges, and “there’s no app for that,” she added, drawing laughs.

The State Department has launched Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi and plans to issue others in Chinese, Hindi and Russian to better communicate with people in those countries, said Clinton.

“I urge countries everywhere to join the United States in our bet that open Internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries,” she said.

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