January 22, 2010

Clinton Rebukes China’s Net Censorship

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on China to investigate the recent cyberattacks on Google and other U.S. firms, and urged U.S. technology companies to oppose Internet censorship.

"The internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that's why we believe it's critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms. Freedom of expression is first among them," said Secretary Clinton on Thursday at the Newseum.

Without specifically mentioning China, she added that nations and individuals who engage in such cyberattacks should be penalized.

"Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society, or any other, pose a threat to our economy, our government and our civil society," she said.

"Countries or individuals that engage in cyberattacks should face consequences and international condemnation."

"In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all."

China played down the clash, saying on Thursday that Google's pledge to pull out of the Chinese market over the recent cyberattacks and the issue of Internet censorship should not impact the broader ties between the U.S. and China.

Clinton named China, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Tunisia among those nations that limit the "free flow of information" or censor the Internet.  

For instance, access to social networking sites in Vietnam has "suddenly disappeared," she said.

China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are nations that have "co-opted the Internet as a tool to target and silence people of faith," said Clinton, who noted some 30 bloggers and activists that had been detained in Egypt.

"On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress," she said.

"But the United States does. We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas."

However, "some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world's networks."

"They have expunged words, names and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech."

Clinton said the U.S. supports the development of new technologies that would  "enable citizens to exercise their right of free expression" by circumventing censorship.

"I hope that refusal to support politically motivated censorship will become a trademark characteristic of American technology companies," she said.

"It should be part of our national brand."

"The private sector has a shared responsibility to help safeguard free expression."

"And when their business dealings threaten to undermine this freedom, they need to consider what's right, not simply the prospect of quick profits," Clinton said.

The State Department is set to hold a high-level meeting next month with network service providers to discuss the issue of Internet freedom.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Cisco are among the technology bellwethers that lawmakers and others say helped build the so-called "Great Firewall of China."

However, in the aftermath of a series of cyberattacks on Chinese human rights activists that originated in China, Google said last week it would no longer censor search results for China-based queries, even if doing so means the firm has to shut down its businesses there.

Secretary Clinton called on China "to conduct a thorough investigation of the cyber intrusions" on Google, and to make results of the probe transparent.

"The Internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it's great that so many people there are now online," she said.

"But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century."

For its part, China has said that cyberattacks and the issue of Internet censorship should not be linked to Sino-US ties.

"If Google has any problems in its business in China, these must be resolved according to Chinese law, and the Chinese government is willing to help resolve these problems," said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei.

"The Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries; otherwise, it's an over-interpretation," Chinese state media quoted him as saying.

China has continually defended its right to censor information available on the Web, and has repeatedly told foreign firms they must obey the nation's laws.

Separately, Microsoft unveiled a patch on Thursday for an Internet Explorer 6 software flaw that the China-based hackers had allegedly used to probe the systems of Google and other firms.