Hillary "Internet Freedom" Clinton's WikiLeaks Issue

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/30/2010 12:02:00 AM
Face it: we all have issues. However, it seems Missus Clinton's foibles are more high-profile than those of the rest of us. Here's yet another case in point. Just a few months removed from making a grandiose speech on the virtues of "Internet freedom" [picture above] in the wake of those dastardly Chinese clamping down on Google's violation of Chinese censorship laws, there's now apparently an Americans exception reserved for WikiLeaks. Unless you've been hiding in a cave somewhere between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been a media firestorm over the leakage of an interesting set of State Department communications to major international newspapers like the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Unfortunately, the ol' freedom 'n' democracy shtick is being contextually applied. If it's America's erstwhile rivals, the problem is one of dealing with "government censors." When it comes to the US government being at the receiving end of some "Internet freedom," however, it becomes an "illegal act" according to the secretary of state. Compare:
Hillary "Internet Freedom" Clinton (January 21, 2010): Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day.

Hillary "Stealing Classified Documents" Clinton (November 29, 2010): The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems. This Administration is advancing a robust foreign policy that is focused on advancing America’s national interests and leading the world in solving the most complex challenges of our time, from fixing the global economy, to thwarting international terrorism, to stopping the spread of catastrophic weapons, to advancing human rights and universal values. In every country and in every region of the world, we are working with partners to pursue these aims.
My, my, such legalistic verbiage. It sounds awfully familiar. Where have I heard such language before? Why, it's those famous Internet freedom violators the Chinese who've said similar things in their white paper on the Internet (Google, take note):
China adheres to rational and scientific law-making, and reserves space for Internet development. Relevant laws and regulations pertaining to basic Internet resource management, information transmission regulation, information security guarantee and other key aspects define the responsibilities and obligations of basic telecommunication business operators, Internet access service providers, Internet information service providers, government administrative organs, Internet users and other related bodies. The citizens' freedom and privacy of correspondence is protected by law, which stipulates at the same time that while exercising such freedom and rights, citizens are not allowed to infringe upon state, social and collective interests or the legitimate freedom and rights of other citizens. No organization or individual may utilize telecommunication networks to engage in activities that jeopardize state security, the public interest or the legitimate rights and interests of other people.
Oops, there went the digital exceptionalism bit. In the end, the US, China, and the rest are all on the same boat in citing similar reasons for curtailing unfettered Internet freedom. Further recall what Missus Clinton said in her bid for Internet freedom that seem strange in light on current US actions:
Hillary "Internet Freedom" Clinton (January 21, 2010): On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.
The main points are these -
  1. Whatever your opinion of WikiLeaks' actions as well as those of the US government in response, the idea that all of us netizens should have "equal access" to knowledge and ideas doesn't quite hold when it's the US having a taste of "Internet freedom";
  2. The US still wants to exercise its sovereignty, as do the likes of China and other purported enemies of digital democracy. Accordingly, this demonstrates that most countries--including the United States--do feel obliged to rein in the supposedly extraterritorial "single Internet" features of the Internet if it so suits their purposes;
  3. Similarly, the United States is citing its laws to enforce its will on foreign entities--sort of like Google in China, huh? As long as there is no clear global "Law of the Internet"--Google may want to change that (foolishly, I believe)--I guess we all must return to national law.
Channelling Daniel Drezner, then, I agree that there is no real hypocrisy being revealed by the difference between what America says during diplomatic discourse and its internal communications reveal as the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggests. Rather, the hypocrisy lies in the very notion of Internet freedom. When other countries (especially those unfriendly to America) perform cyber-censure by claiming to apply law, it's a violation of free speech. When the US attempts to do the same, it's an "illegal" act that must be brought to justice. The Chinese didn't even allude to throwing Google personnel in jail. Who's paranoid here?

The excuse that American personnel and informants are being put in danger doesn't wash, either. As Evgeny Morozov points out, cyber-dissidents supposedly empowered by "Internet freedom" face these dangers already [1, 2] instead of facing those which are more abstract at this point in time.

Ah well, you know ol' Missus Clinton. Let's just say that she's prone to using, how should I describe it, grandiose language. We all remember that chestnut of a quote while she was first lady, "This vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for President." Nowadays we have a cyber-update of the same sentiment. With some American dirty laundry being aired out in public, "this disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity." In the end, the only clear result of this exercise may be the State department exercising more circumspection in its intra-agency communications since, embarrassingly enough, there is apparently a culture of leaking there. It's not quite a tight ship. Telling others to be guarded in their communications with Americans is nothing novel, obviously.

I guess what goes around comes around। It makes you wish Missus Clinton didn't start fooling around with "Internet freedom" since everybody knows who the joke is on this time. You can carve that in 50 tons of Tennessee marble.

UPDATE: Also see the State Department's letter to Julian Assange prior to the release of the cables. Same legalese banana.