As Congress sinks its teeth into an alternative to the widely loathed anti-piracy legislation that some fear will lead to Internet censorship, Hillary Clinton is standing up for the ideals of an open web. In a speech at The Hague, Clinton sounded less like the Secretary of State than some sort of digital freedom superhero. And she's not just talking about the Internet in the United States but also in censor-happy countries like China, Syria and Russia. "When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us," she said on Thursday. "There isn’t an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet. There’s just the Internet."
Glenn Greenwald doesn't buy that talk for a second. In a lengthy and strongly worded blog post at Salon, Greenwald writes:
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.
Ouch. The civil liberties lawyer goes on to detail the Obama administration's anti-WikiLeaks tendencies, including the federal government's blocking access to the State Department diplomatic cables that spread as far as the Library of Congress's computers and gives passing mention to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that would give the government even more power to censor the web. Greenwald concludes:
Internet freedom -- preventing government and corporate control of the Internet -- is indeed one of the most vital political fights of this generation, perhaps the most vital. There are many people in a position credibly to lead and support that fight. Hillary Clinton and the government in which she serves is most definitely not among them; more often than not, they are among the enemies of those freedoms.
As anybody who's followed the backlash to SOPA can attest, pooh-poohing Internet freedom is highly unfashionable. Greenwald's link-laden post that details the government's anti-Wikileaks stance makes clear how it's easy to talk the talk but actually defending Internet freedom requires more than headline-grabbing rhetoric. Of a United Nations proposal that would allow governments more power to censor the web, Clinton said, "They aim to impose a system, cemented in a global code, that expands control over Internet resources, institutions and content and centralizes that control in the hands of the government." But isn't that what SOPA would accomplish?
The Obama administration so far has stayed fairly silent about the anti-piracy legislation, understandably (from a political point of view) hesitating from speaking of the legislation in the same breath as China's war on digital liberty. Nevertheless, as Congress considers an alternative to the bill that's drawn skepticism from legal experts who say it's "less shrill" than SOPA but potentially still problematic, it's apparent that American leaders don't totally understand all of the issues at play when flirting with the idea of the U.S.'s own firewall. Clinton sounds like a hero, but like Spiderman says, "With great power comes great responsibility." That's a nerdy quote, we realize, but we're talking about the Internet here. It's a landscape built by nerds, enjoyed by all and potentially susceptible to the mores of a powerful, sometimes uninformed but loose-lipped few.