Opening Remarks of Under Secretary Paula J. Dobriansky at “New Media vs. New Censorship: The Authoritarian Assault on Information” Workshop

Thank you, Steve, for that kind introduction and thanks to the other governors and distinguished guests both here and with us on line for participating. It is a pleasure to be here. I have long held high regard for the critically important roles the Board and your constituent broadcasters play in communicating America’s message to the world, and in partnering with NGOs and journalists. I want to commend you for holding this significant workshop today.

Nearly a century ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes reasoned against efforts to limit free expression, even if in the public interest, because of what he called “the marketplace of ideas.”

Holmes argued that, “the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas, that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” His prescience, 70 years before the birth of the Internet, is astonishing when we consider it through the lens of the issues we face today.

Today, the efforts of governments worldwide to restrict the free flow of information are on the rise. Some may argue that they filter or block the Internet to protect their citizens against dangerous or morally questionable ideas. Others do not even seek a pretense, they simply restrict access or silence those who speak out on the Internet. Most recently, we have seen instances of alleged government attacks on Internet capacities of other governments. In all of these cases, the common denominator is deliberate denial of the “marketplace of ideas.”

Secretary Rice recognized this trend more than 2 years ago when she created the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, which I co-chair together with Under Secretary for Economics, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Reuben Jeffery. I want to recognize Ambassador David Gross, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs who is here with us today, for his extensive work on Internet freedom.

The Taskforce brings together government, NGOs, and industry to work toward the following goals:

  To address the challenges to free expression and the free flow of ideas on the Internet,
  To advocate for the availability of the widest possible universe of content through the Internet, and
  To actively minimize the success of repressive regimes in censoring information, and increase the transparency of content restrictions.

The strategy for achieving these goals consists of three basic elements: First, monitoring Internet freedom in countries around the world; second, responding to threats to Internet freedom and; third, advancing Internet freedom by expanding access to the Internet. In each of these areas, we are making progress.

On monitoring, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor’s annual country reports on human rights practices now contain a section solely dedicated to Internet freedom, to help policymakers, publics, and the Congress track problem areas.

The Human Rights bureau has also provided a grant to Freedom House for an initiative to assess and rank countries based on their Internet freedom policies and practices. And they are in close consultation with groups such as Reporters without Borders to learn about the work in their reports such as “Internet Enemies” and “Under Surveillance,” which help shine a light on Internet censorship.

The Taskforce also provides a channel for responding to threats to Internet freedom, where non-governmental organizations or internet service providers can flag for us an abuse, upon which we can then act.

We raise issues bilaterally, but we also engage multilaterally to leverage the impact of all our democratic partners.