Hypocrisy from the U.S. Government -- having U.S. officials self-righteously impose standards on other countries which they routinely violate -- is so common and continuous that the vast majority of examples do not even merit notice. But sometimes, it is so egregious and shameless -- and sufficiently consequential -- that it should not go unobserved. Such is the case with the speech delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday at a Conference on Internet Freedom held at the Hague, a conference devoted to making "a stand for freedom of expression on the internet, especially on behalf of cyber dissidents and bloggers." Clinton has been flamboyantly parading around for awhile now as the planet's leading protector of Internet freedom; yesterday she condemned multiple countries for assaulting this freedom and along the way actually managed to keep a straight face as she said things like this:
"[T]he right to express one's views, practice one's faith, peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change -- these are all rights to which all human beings are entitled, whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an internet chat room. . . . This is an urgent task. It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of internet content, or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another. . . .
"[T]he more people that are online and contributing ideas, the more valuable the entire network becomes to all the other users. In this way, all users, through the billions of individual choices we make about what information to seek or share, fuel innovation, enliven public debates, quench a thirst for knowledge, and connect people in ways that distance and cost made impossible just a generation ago.
"But when ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the internet is diminished for all of us. What we do today to preserve fundamental freedoms online will have a profound effect on the next generation of users. . . .
"The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online, and we also need to protect the internet itself from plans that would undermine its fundamental characteristics."
She astutely observed that "those who push these plans often do so in the name of security." She added that "the first challenge is for the private sector to embrace its role in protecting internet freedom," which -- she lamented -- has not always happened: "A few years ago, the headlines were about companies turning over sensitive information about political dissidents. Earlier this year, they were about a company shutting down the social networking accounts of activists in the midst of a political debate." She concluded with a real flourish: "Our government will continue to work very hard to get around every barrier that repressive governments put up" even though such governments will try to maintain those barriers "by resorting to greater oppression."
What Hillary Clinton is condemning here is exactly that which not only the administration in which she serves, but also she herself, has done in one of the most important Internet freedom cases of the last decade: WikiLeaks. And beyond that case, both Clinton specifically and the Obama administration generally have waged a multi-front war on Internet freedom.
First, let us recall that many of WikiLeaks' disclosures over the last 18 months have directly involved improprieties, bad acts and even illegalities on the part of Clinton's own State Department. As part of WikiLeaks' disclosures, she was caught ordering her diplomats at the U.N. to engage in extensive espionage on other diplomats and U.N. officials; in a classified memo, she demanded "forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications" as well as "credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers" for a whole slew of diplomats, actions previously condemned by the U.S. as illegal. WikiLeaks also revealed that the State Department -- very early on in the Obama administration -- oversaw a joint effort between its diplomats and GOP officials to pressure and coerce Spain to block independent judicial investigations into the torture policies of Bush officials: a direct violation of then-candidate Obama's pledge to allow investigations to proceed as well being at odds with the White House's dismissal of questions about the Spanish investigation as merely "hypothetical." WikiLeaks disclosures also revealed that public denials from Clinton's State Department about the U.S. role in Yemen were at best deeply misleading. And, of course, those disclosures revealed a litany of other truly bad acts by the U.S. Government generally.
What has the U.S. Government done in response to these newsworthy Internet revelations? It launched what The Sydney Morning Herald this week -- citing classified Australian diplomatic cables -- described as "an ... 'unprecedented' US government criminal investigation: unprecedented both in its scale and nature." It has convened a Grand Jury to criminally investigate WikiLeaks -- for nothing more than doing what newspapers routinely do: publishing newsworthy classified information received from sources. It stood passively by -- if it did not actively participate in -- highly sophisticated cyberattacks that prevented WikiLeaks from being hosted any longer on a U.S. site. It secretly sought from Twitter a slew of records showing the online activities of WikiLeaks supporters, including a sitting member of Icleand's Parliament. It has serially harassed American supporters of WikiLeaks by repeatedly detaining them at the airport and seizing their electronic goods such as their laptops, all without any warrants. And Senate Democrats demanded Julian Assange's prosecution for espionage while bullying private corporations to cut off all of WikiLeaks' funding sources.
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