Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on technology companies to make “good decisions” about how and even whether to do business involving nations that may use the equipment or software against their citizens.
Clinton, who has made Internet freedom a core element of U.S. foreign policy, also issued a stark warning today about efforts by countries such as China and Russia seeking to nationalize the Internet.
In an address to the Conference on Internet Freedom, Clinton urged companies to consider whether they should enter certain markets, prevent governments from using their products to spy on citizens and warn consumers of the risks they face in using certain devices or programs.
Crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in the Middle East have revealed how technology by companies such as Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co., NetApp Inc. of Sunnyvale, California, and Munich-based Siemens AG has been used by governments to monitor and arrest dissidents.
“The first challenge is for the private sector to embrace its role in protecting Internet freedom,” Clinton said at the conference in the Hague, hosted by the Netherlands and Google Inc.
“There’s no formula for this,” Clinton said. “Making good decisions about how and whether to do business in various parts of the world -- particularly where the law is haphazardly applied or opaque -- takes critical thinking and deliberation.”
Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt said his company organized the conference with the Dutch to counter governments that would say, “We don’t like that, we’re going to curtail that, we’re going to shut it down, we’re going to censor it.”
Clinton is concluding a five-day trip to Europe where she has spent the bulk of her time speaking about democracy and human rights.
She joined with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal today to announce the creation of a global coalition of private industry, Internet freedom advocates and governments to protect Internet freedom and “promote the cause of human rights via the Internet,” Rosenthal said in a press conference today.
Several countries have already signaled their intention to join the coalition, Clinton said.
She highlighted the contrast between the new coalition and nations trying to restrict Internet freedoms, such as Russia and China. Both nations are pushing for the ability to impose structural changes to computer networks within their own borders, rather than accept the common global standards that spurred the growth of the Internet.
When these countries negotiate at standards-setting bodies -- such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as ICANN, and the International Telecommunication Union -- they often use the word “sovereignty” as a shorthand for domestic control of the Internet. In public pronouncements, for example, the Chinese government refers to “China’s Internet,” rather than “the Internet.”
“In effect, they want to create national barriers in cyberspace,” Clinton said. “This approach would be disastrous for Internet freedom.” The current multistakeholder system “brings together the best of governments, the private sector, and civil society,” Clinton said, “and it works.”
Governments that try to curtail Internet freedom “will have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing, by resorting to greater oppression,” Clinton said.
Companies should ask themselves questions, Clinton said. “Should you do business in a country with a history of violating Internet freedom,” she asked. “Is there something you can do to prevent governments from using their products to spy on their citizens?”
In Vilnius, Lithuania, Clinton pushed for the adoption of a declaration of cyberspace freedoms at a meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe on Dec. 6. Russian opposition stalled the proposal, which must be agreed upon unanimously.
--With assistance from Brendan Greeley in Washington. Editor: Terry Atlas, Jim Rubin.
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