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U.S. Secretary of State defends unfettered access to the Internet

In a historic speech on Internet freedom last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared her support for freedom of expression and acknowledged that unrestricted access to the Internet is integral to human rights, economic development and political stability, report Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas," Clinton said.

She criticised online censorship by traditional allies and major trade partners, such as Saudi Arabia and China, and condemned governments, such as Egypt, for arresting bloggers. She also called on the Chinese government to investigate recent cyber attacks on Google and to make the results "transparent."

"Secretary Clinton has elevated Internet freedom to a key U.S. priority by confronting governments that censor online speech and supporting companies that stand up for human rights," said Human Rights Watch. "The challenge now will be to put these goals into practice by incorporating Internet freedom into diplomacy, trade policy, and meaningful pressure on companies to act responsibly."

Clinton stated that censorship "should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere." She also mentioned the Global Network Initiative (GNI), an effort by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, human rights organisations, academics, and investors that commit companies to protect freedom of expression and privacy online, says Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch has made several recommendations: the U.S. should press its counterparts to eliminate online censorship and ensure that all government agencies work to fight censorship, open Internet should be the focus of commercial diplomacy and trade negotiations, and future U.S. trade agreements should have provisions to protect freedom of expression online, comparable to labour protections.

RSF applauded Clinton's support for Internet freedom initiatives and her commitment to utilise more resources to develop software that will circumvent censorship. RSF suggests that millions of dollars set aside for aid should be sent to groups like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, which have helped millions of Internet users in China, Iran and other countries to access blocked information and notify the rest of the world about critical issues in their own countries.

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