Clinton: Nations Will 'Pay Price' For Restricting Web
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The Internet has played a key role in the protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech today, said the U.S. wants to help keep the Internet open and safe for activists and reformers.
NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.
MICHELE KELEMEN: In Egypt, a popular uprising fueled by Facebook and Twitter toppled a president. In Iran, the government is once again fighting to keep protestors off the streets. Secretary Clinton says there are lessons in both, adding there's no point arguing over whether the Internet is a force of liberation or repression.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Egypt isn't inspiring people because they communicated using Twitter. It is inspiring because people came together and persisted in demanding a better future. Iran isn't awful because the authorities used Facebook to shadow and capture members of the opposition. Iran is awful because it is a government that routinely violates the rights of its people.
KELEMEN: She says many countries faces a, quote, "dictator's dilemma" and will eventually have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing.
Secretary CLINTON: The Internet has become the public space of the 21st century - the world's town square, classroom, marketplace, coffee house and nightclub.
KELEMEN: Just as she made her speech, though, the Republican minority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized her for sitting on $30 million meant to help activists get around government firewalls and protect their anonymity.
Rebecca MacKinnon of the New America Foundation says the State Department got caught up in Washington politics.
Ms. REBECCA MACKINNON (Senior Fellow, New America Foundation): There's a great deal of argument about, you know, who deserved the money, frankly.
KELEMEN: Two companies that have developed circumvention technology have links to Falun Gong, a banned religious group in China. And MacKinnon says they have powerful lobbyists.
Ms MACKINNON: So there's been a great deal of criticism coming from some quarters that State Department didn't act quickly enough to allocate money towards specific groups that are building specific circumvention tools. And there are others who feel that it's not just about circumvention, it's a broader set of technologies, training, public education, and policy that's required in order to really achieve Internet freedom, as it were.
KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton says she's taking a venture capital style approach, investing $25 million this year to support various technologies and training programs.
Secretary CLINTON: I know some have criticized us for not pouring funding into a single technology. But we believe there is no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression. There's no app for that.
KELEMEN: She also brushed aside criticism that she's giving mixed messages by promoting Internet freedoms while blasting WikiLeaks for publishing secret diplomatic cables.
Secretary CLINTON: The WikiLeaks incident began with a theft, just as if it had been executed by smuggling papers in a briefcase. The fact that WikiLeaks used the Internet is not the reason we criticized its action.
KELEMEN: MacKinnon of the New America Foundation says this was not a convincing argument because Clinton didn't point out that there's a difference between the Army soldier who allegedly stole the cables and WikiLeaks which published them.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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