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The Newest Human Right

The Newest Human Right

Secretary of State Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced that the U.S. State Department plans to spend $25 million this year on initiatives designed to protect bloggers and help them get around curbs like the Great Firewall of China. She also added, “Those who clamp down on internet freedom may be able to hold back the full impact of their people’s yearnings for a while, but not forever“. With this new initiative, the U.S. government is not only equating the right to “online assembly” with the right to peaceful assembly, but is pledging to leverage its clout, and taxpayer dollars, to protect the rights of cyber activists all over the world.

Certainly the Secretary is on the mark expressing her support for pro-democracy movements wherever they bloom, but let’s not get carried away here. Its one thing to vocalize support for 21st century cyber “human rights”, but quite another to fund programs that protect cyber activists and help them to circumvent censors like that of the Chinese government. In funding such an effort, the US government is moving well beyond cyber democracy advocacy, and is placing its foot on a very slippery slope. This could get complicated very quickly.

For example, does this $25 million in funding apply to the protection of increasingly vocal pro-democracy groups in say Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan? All three regimes are long time allies of ours and I’m quite sure they would see U.S. support for their “online dissidents” as meddling. Also, which countries are we defining as “repressive states” these days? Egypt made it to the naughty column of the State Department’s naughty or nice list only after Egyptians flooded into Cairo streets in mass.

The Newest Human Right

Vietnam Cyber dissident Huynh-Nguyen-Dao (Google pics)

Madam Secretary, in the spirit of this revolutionary epoch, allow me to make a radical suggestion. Why not donate that $25 million to a couple of very capable foundations in our own country? There are quite a few philanthropic organizations that focus on improving our citizen’s access to the internet. Might I remind you that there are hundreds of schools in this country with no internet access. How about providing them with a ramp onto the internet highway.

Evangelizing cyber democracy and freedoms across the globe is noble, but actually funding the protection of cyber dissidents is more a job for an the UN High Commission for Human Rights than a core responsibility of the USA. Let’s start investing in our own young people — protecting their “human right” to internet access before trying to police the complex cyber landscape.



Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).