I think I've seen this movie before.
In her remarks, Secretary Clinton said that there has been "a spike in threats to the free flow of information," specifically citing China, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as increasingly censoring the Internet and Egypt for arresting bloggers.
Secretary Clinton went on to say that she was announcing that "over the next year, we will work with partners in industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations to establish a standing effort that will harness the power of connection technologies and apply them to our diplomatic goals. By relying on mobile phones, mapping applications, and other new tools, we can empower citizens and leverage our traditional diplomacy."
In other words, she announced a new US policy of cyber diplomacy.
In addition, Secretary Clinton slapped around US and other Western companies doing business in countries that restrict or censor the Internet, and took aim especially at US companies in China that didn't support Google's position.
She said "we are urging U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance. 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 what’s a quick profit."
I wonder if Microsoft took any notice. Microsoft's Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has repeatedly said that Microsoft intends to follow any censorship requirements placed on Bing by any country it does business with, consistent with US law.
Furthermore, Secretary Clinton pointedly said that, "States, terrorists, and those who would act as their proxies must know that the United States will protect our networks. 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. Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation."
" In an Internet-connected world, an attack on one nation’s networks can be an attack on all."
Secretary Clinton's speech take away was basically this: "We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas."
Secretary Clinton speech was rather remarkable and I strongly encourage you to read it. There are major policy implications in just about every paragraph. It is being called the "Clinton Internet Doctrine" for good reason, especially if the US actually follows through on it (more on that later).
President Obama added weight to Secretary Clinton's remarks by saying on Friday that he was said "troubled" by the Google hacking incident, according to his spokesperson. President Obama's spokesperson said, that "[Mr Obama] continues to be troubled by the cybersecurity breach that Google attributes to China. His view, and as he said even in China, he thinks that unfettered Internet access is an important value... All we're looking for from China are some answers."
Well, the answers weren't long in coming.
No doubt after reading a speech it did not appreciate and Presidential comments that it thought were undiplomatic, the Chinese government told the US on Friday that, quoting a Financial Times story, "We firmly oppose such talk, which runs counter to the facts and damages China-US relations ... [We urge the US to] respect each others’ core interests and concerns, and handle issues of disagreement and sensitive issues in an appropriate manner, in order to guarantee the stable development of China-US relations."
State newspapers also went on to call the US an "information imperialist" for trying to impose its vision of the Internet on other countries, while others in the Chinese media were saying, in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre fashion, that China didn't need any (stinking) Internet lessons from the US.
On Saturday, official Chinese papers were calling the US a "hypocrite" for pointing fingers at China while censoring the Internet itself and building up a massive cyberwar capability.
On Sunday, Chinese papers were making the point that the US was trying to claim that the Internet was the "high seas" without any "territorial waters."
Today, China came out swinging some more. China's State Council Information Office said the nation "bans using the Internet to subvert state power and wreck national unity, to incite ethnic hatred and division, to promote cults and to distribute content that is pornographic, salacious, violent or terrorist... China has an ample legal basis for punishing such harmful content, and there is no room for doubting this. This is completely different from so-called restriction of Internet freedom."
This week promises more vitriol.
"Far better that the United States raise issues of Internet freedom, discrimination against U.S. companies and cyberwar stemming from China directly and openly with the Communist leadership than allow Beijing to poison and abuse the Internet without paying a price."
Sounds like we're heading towards a "you are either for or against them" Internet moment soon.
Having read over Secretary Clinton's speech, I did notice that she didn't say anything about Australia's attempt at censoring the Internet or about the UK's desire to monitor every communication of its citizens or the US government's own voracious appetite for information gleaned through surveillance or its desires to limit Internet access for certain activities, like gambling. If you are going to call for an unfettered Internet, you need to call out your dear friends and yourself as well, or you do end up sounding like a hypocrite.
Further, it would be a bit more meaningful if the Obama Administration sponsored legislation that forced US media companies like Microsoft to follow Google's lead and ban them from censoring the Internet in countries they operate in instead of merely urging them to be "proactive" in challenging Internet censorship and surveillance, whatever that means.
Fat chance of that happening.
And it will be highly unusual if the US allows this squabble over the Internet to harm US-Chinese relations as the Washington Post seems to suggest is a good idea. The current Administration has enough on its plate to pick a real economic fight with China over the Internet.
As I said, I think I have seen this movie someplace.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.