Last updated: January 25, 2010 - 5:41am
[Commentary] The Internet has produced a vast expansion of free speech and access to information around the world. But for China and Russia, it has also become a means for waging a covert war against other nations, including the United States -- a brazen effort to steal secrets and plant malware. For those countries and for a host of other authoritarian regimes, Internet freedom is a threat, to be countered by censorship, the imprisonment of bloggers and domestic spying. That's why the speech delivered Thursday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was so important.
She made it admirably clear that abusers such as China will no longer get a free pass in U.S. public diplomacy or in international forums. Sec Clinton pledged that in addition to defending its own companies and cyberspace, the United States would take measures to help human rights advocates, political dissidents and civil society groups overcome their governments' censorship. Until now, the State Department has been negligent in this area; it has misspent -- or failed to spend at all -- money appropriated by Congress for firewall-busting. A group called the Global Internet Freedom Consortium has been denied funding, even though it says that it has a proven record of breaching the firewalls of both China and Iran. A State Department official told The Post that the group was refused help because it is connected to the banned Falun Gong movement and "the Chinese would go ballistic if we did that." But other officials told us that is not the case; they said that they hoped that the consortium would apply for future funding, which the State Department sensibly plans to spread, venture-capital style, among various groups and technologies. Regardless of who is funded, Beijing will probably "go ballistic." A Foreign Ministry statement issued in response to Ms. Clinton's speech already threatened that the new agenda could be "harmful to China-U.S. relations." And perhaps it should be. 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.
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