Kerry calls to ‘tear down’ Internet censorship

Different countries’ control of the Internet is increasingly dividing the world into “two different visions” reminiscent of the Cold War, Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Monday.

In remarks to a global Internet governance conference, Kerry said that barriers to Internet access and online freedom needed to be torn down, just like the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"Today, we’ve all learned that walls can be made of ones and zeros and the deprivation of access even to those ones and zeros, and that wall can be just as powerful in keeping us apart in a world that is so incredibly interconnected,” he said at the fourth annual Freedom Online Coalition conference.

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“So it's very much our ... common responsibility to try to tear down those walls just as it was our responsibility to try to do that during the Cold War.”

He specifically mentioned Russia and Venezuela as countries with an “an absolutely unmistakable pattern” of Internet crackdown.

“The places where we face some of the greatest security challenges today are also the places where governments set up firewalls against some of the basic freedoms online,” he said.

In Russia, for instance, activists have been concerned that President Vladimir Putin is taking greater control of Internet access there amid a standoff in Ukraine.

The Russian leader recently called the Internet a “CIA project" and the founder of the country’s answer to Facebook left the site and fled the country, citing fears of a Putin takeover.

Kerry said it was “no coincidence” that Russia “forced” the social network chief, Pavel Durov, to leave his country after refusing to hand over personal information about Ukrainians protesting the Kremlin.

The Obama administration recently began a planned handoff of the Internet domain naming system, a move that critics warned would empower Russia, China and other nations that limit their citizens’ access to the Internet.  

But supporters have defended the action. The Internet needs support from governments, private companies, rights groups and other organizations to succeed, they say, in a sentiment that Kerry echoed in his Monday remarks. 

“Our principle is clear: if you have interests in how the Internet works, you get to play a role in how it’s governed,” Kerry said on Monday. “That’s what global multistakeholder Internet governance is all about.”

Kerry spoke via a Google Plus video chat at the conference in Tallinn, Estonia, as part of an international effort to advance freedom online. The Freedom Online Coalition is comprised of a group of governments who work with private companies and advocacy organizations to further the mission.

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