State Department: Internet Freedom Critical

Following Google's recent announcement that the company would "review" its business operations in China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will address the issue of Internet freedom in a speech Thursday in Washington D.C. Alec Ross is Clinton's senior adviser for innovation. He tells Renee Montagne that companies like Google shouldn't have to worry about cyber attacks.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning said that nations that engage in cyber-attacks, quote, "face consequences and international condemnation." In a major speech outlining U.S. policy on Internet freedom and security, Clinton singled out China, urging that country to investigate cyber-attacks involving Google, attacks which prompted Google to say it might pull out of China.

In recent days, more than 30 American companies have had computers hacked allegedly from China. To talk about the State Department's efforts to deal with global problems with technology, Clinton's technology advisor came into our studio yesterday. Alec Ross said companies like Google shouldnt have to worry about cyber-attacks.

Mr. ALEC ROSS (U.S. State Department): I mean, the ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical. Cyberspace provides a platform for innovation and prosperity and the means to improve general welfare around the globe. So this is - this allegation has come and produced a significant level of concern on our part. And thats why we are looking to the Chinese government now for an explanation of it.

MONTAGNE: And if you can elaborate, how does these latest events play into Secretary Clintons new initiative on Internet freedom and security?

MR. ROSS: So Secretary Clinton plans to lay out a vision and a series of policies for protecting longstanding American values in a networked world. The recent news about China and Google has obviously gotten our attention. But whats gotten even more of our attention is the fact that 31 percent of the people in the world are now accessing the Internet on a censored Internet.

The secretary of state regards Internet freedom as a global issue. And there are a lot of other aspects of this that are very concerning. There are so-called honor killings in the Middle East, where young women are being beaten or being killed because they access social media. There are extreme examples of censorship throughout much of the world. So we really are engaging on this country-to-country, where our strategies will adjust and be appropriate to each country context.

MONTAGNE: How can the U.S. back up any demands it makes of countries like China or Iran or Syria to allow freedom on the Internet?

MR. ROSS: So one of the things that the United States has done for years, but hasnt spoken much about, is the role that we have played helping people at the grassroots access an open Internet. Some attention was drawn to this when it became public, that we helped play a role encouraging Twitter to keep its networks up in the Iranian election aftermath. I predict that you're going to see more efforts on our part so that citizens around the globe that want to access an uncensored Internet are able to.

MONTAGNE: Okay. So you know, encouraging Twitter to stay up during the demonstrations in Iran - you're coming at it from the angle of the outside. What is the thinking of what can be done on a government-to-government basis?

MR. ROSS: Yeah, so one thing that we can do is we can elevate this as a matter of our foreign policy. Until President Obama went to China and made Internet freedom a central human rights issue of his trip at the Shanghai town hall, Internet freedom was a piece of foreign policy arcana.

Both the presidents elevation of Internet freedom at the Shanghai town hall and now Secretary Clintons giving a major policy address about Internet freedom signals that this is something thats going to be at the table when we sit down with foreign ministers, when we sit down with our interlocutors the world around.

MONTAGNE: Well, I guess youre all diplomats, so it all sounds like, though, the power of persuasion rather than anything very muscular.

MR. ROSS: The power of persuasion when its Secretary Clinton is pretty significant. I also would highlight some initiatives of ours which is to empower people at the grassroots. Part of what were going to be doing is putting tools and resources on the Web freely for people around the globe to understand how they themselves can protect themselves in a networked environment.

MONTAGNE: Alec Ross is Secretary of State Hillary Clintons senior advisor for innovation.

Thanks very much for joining us.

MR. ROSS: Thank you, Renee.

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