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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Clinton Plans To Stump For Global Net Freedom

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is preparing to deliver a major speech on Thursday elevating the importance of Internet freedom and placing the influence of the United States' diplomacy behind efforts to protect it, according to multiple people who have been briefed on the speech's contents.

Clinton's speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., is intended to announce that support for online liberty and press freedom will become a State Department priority and will address the importance of cyber security, people who have been briefed said. For example, the U.S. could be prepared to require countries to declare support for basic principles around Internet freedom as part of the conditions for receiving foreign aid, sources told CNET News.

The speech will come just nine days after Google's blunt declaration about Chinese censorship and illegal electronic intrusions, including allegations of theft of intellectual property. As many as 30 other companies may have been targeted, including Yahoo, Symantec, Juniper Networks, Dow Chemical, and Northrop Grumman.

One question left unanswered during the briefing by Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, which took place Wednesday morning, is whether the State Department would risk offending the Chinese government by addressing last week's charges lodged by Google. "We did not get the impression that there would be any particular reference to the Google China incident," said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, one of the people briefed.

But a State Department official, speaking on background, told CNET later in the day that the Google-China incident will be included in the speech.

The speech comes at a precarious time in Washington-Beijing relations, which have been stressed by a dispute over carbon emissions at the Copenhagen summit and controversy over the valuation of China's currency, the yuan.

"If people are looking for a laying out of a 1-through-10 Internet agenda, they're going to be disappointed," said Leslie Harris, the president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, who was also briefed. "But if they're looking for the United States to put the power of its diplomacy on the line for Internet freedom, it's going to be a very important speech."

Google's blunt admission that it believes the Chinese government is behind intrusions into its internal network, and perhaps theft of source code, has roiled political and technological circles since last week. It has led the State Department to indicate that it would lodge a protest in a formal letter--called a demarche--with Beijing.

In the last few days, State Department officials have had multiple meetings with their Chinese counterparts and say they plan to continue the discussions.

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