In January 2010, I sat in an auditorium at the Newseum in Washington and heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaim that “the spread of information networks is forming a new nervous system for our planet.” Clinton announced that internet freedom would be a new pillar of U.S. diplomacy and that as a country, “we stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.” She described access to global information networks as being like “an on-ramp to modernity” and argued that “even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.” Paying tribute to Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” speech, she articulated a principle of the “freedom to connect”:
the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate.
This vision was in contrast to that of countries like China, with its infamous “great firewall,” and other repressive countries, which held that nations’ internets should be divided by borders and subject to government control just as their physical territories are. Under this vision, authoritarian countries could have equally authoritarian internets.
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