By Kim Hart - 01/21/10 03:50 PM EST
The White House also supported Google's move, although the administration was criticized for not taking a strong enough stance on the issue of Internet censorship. Lawmakers including Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) pressured Google's competitors, including Yahoo and Microsoft, to also threaten to leave China unless the country eases its restrictions.
Clinton reiterated those sentiments, saying companies needed to do the "right thing" for their customers rather than only worrying about profits.
"People want to believe that what they put into the Internet will not be used against them," she said. "Those who lose the confidence of their customers will eventually lose their customers....The private sector has a shared responsibility."
The State Department, she said, is organizing a "high-level meeting" next month to "bring together firms that provide network services" around the world. The goal is to talk about strategies for doing business globally while protecting free speech.
Clinton also talked about the growing economic importance of having unfettered access to the Internet, whether it be through a computer or mobile phone, calling the Web the "new nervous system" of the world. Cybersecurity, she added, should be "put on the world's agenda."
"The United States will protect our networks," she said. "Those who disrupt the network ... pose threats to our economy, our government and civil society ... Cyber criminals should face consequences and international condemnation."
The State Department gives financial support to groups developing tools that allow people living in restrictive countries to circumvent the government's censors to reach the open Internet. Clinton said that support will continue with additional grants to those organizations.
Countries such as North Korea, which clamp down on their citizens' abilities to communicate, "risk walling themselves off" from the rest of the world, she said.
"Responsible governments with an interest in global stability will work with us," she said. "An attack on one nation can be an attack on all."
Clinton's speech was applauded by the technology community and members of Congress. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee that focuses on Internet issues, said he joins her "call for governments to provide their populations open access to the media, and freedom of expression and assembly."
"I also want to find ways to press these nations to work cooperatively and openly to establish the basic rules for Internet access that are fair and respectful of individuals," he said.
Facebook, which has a limited presence in China because of the complicated restrictions on Internet use there, also expressed support.
"Companies like ours have been looking for guidance from the U.S. government and we’re glad to hear that this is a priority at the State Department," said spokesman Andrew Noyes.
Sally Wentworth of the Internet Society, a non-profit organization, said Clinton's speech was "powerful" and pointed out that "it is in the best business interests of all companies for their employees and customers to have access to information."