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Technology, Freedom and the Internet by Telle Whitney, President and CEO

A few weeks ago I attended a policy speech by Secretary Clinton at the Newseum in Washington DC.  For those of you who didn’t read the coverage, here is the speech and the video.

A few weeks ago I attended a policy speech by Secretary Clinton at the Newseum in Washington DC.  For those of you who didn’t read the coverage, here is the speech and the video.

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As we all know, the internet,  has shifted the way that information is spread.  But the speech reminded me that its impact is particularly profound for the many countries around the world where information is restricted for a variety of reason.   Today, there are more ways to spread information than ever before, which can support the rights of all individual by providing connection and information.   . But these tools are also being exploited to undermine human rights.   There is a spike in threats of free flow of information in places such as Vietnam, China Uzbekistan, and Tunisia.   In Egypt, bloggers were recently detained, because of their news coverage.   One of them was released a few days later, and was present at Secretary Clinton’s  speech. 

 

From the speech  

 

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.

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One of the most important assertions of her speech was that the United States believes in a single internet.    Franklin Roosevelt talked about four freedoms in 1941

 

Roosevelt’s four freedoms are

            Freedom of Expression

            Freedom to Worship

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            Freedom from Want

To this, Secretary Clinton added

            Freedom to Connect

 

She asserted that ALL people have certain rights to seek, receive and impart ideas.  However, there are countries working hard to get rid of information.   

 

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She believes that the internet can promote economic development, in that it provides people with knowledge.    It provides significant yields for modest investment.  Cell phones are becoming the platform of choice around the world.    

 

One World Bank study found that in a typical developing country, a 10% increase in the penetration rate for mobile phones led to an almost one percent annual increase in per capita GDP. To put that in perspective, for India, that would translate into almost $10 billion a year

 

After the speech, there was a discussion which included Natalia Morari from Moldova.  

Natalia talked about a spontaneous uprising in Moldova.   On April 6th, she and friends got together for coffee after an election that was stolen.  They sent out a short message to come to the center plaza of Moldova the next day, and light a candle.   They expected around 300, but in fact 10,000 showed up.  The government blocked the social network,  the messages moved to twitter, and social unrest followed.   Ultimately this led to new elections.  

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Another example of the impact of technology and the internet is in Iran, where it continues to be remarkable in the sustained character of protests.  The government has no mechanism to stop the tools used for loosely organized uprising.  The protests have continued for a year.   The government shuts down one network, and another one springs to life. 

 

For me the speech was a reminder of the importance of the tie between technology and social impact.  In listening to Secretary Clinton, I understood the importance of technology to the positive changes in social fabrics of many nations.   I was reminded of the importance of the second half of ABI’s mission – to increase the positive impact of technology on the world’s women.