Obama vows to preserve open Internet

During his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, President Obama promised the United States would continue to support a “free and open Internet” and would call out nations that censor content.

On the same day that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke warned an increasing number of nations are enacting policies to censor the Web or block certain applications to protect domestic industries, Obama said the U.S. will always stand up for the individual’s right to free speech. Obama said the freedom to assemble without government permission and an independent media are critical to making social progress and holding those in power accountable.

“Civil society is the conscience of our communities, and America will always extend our engagement abroad with citizens beyond the halls of government. And we will call out those who suppress ideas and serve as a voice for those who are voiceless,” Obama said, adding that while an open society usually results in an open government, freedom of expression is not a substitute for democracy.

Obama also promised the U.S. would actively promote technologies that allow people to communicate with one another in defiance of government bans. One example was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support of the so-called “Twitter revolution” in Iran last year following the election, which led to a subsequent crackdown by government authorities on social-media use.

“We will promote new tools of communication so people are empowered to connect with one another and, in repressive societies, to do so with security,” Obama said. “We will support a free and open Internet, so individuals have the information to make up their own minds. And it is time to embrace and effectively monitor norms that advance the rights of civil society and guarantee its expansion within and across borders.”

In a veiled shot at his predecessor, Obama said the ultimate success of democracy across the globe would not depend on on the U.S. imposing it on other countries against their will, but on citizens of those countries, presumably armed with access to the Internet and other communications tools, demanding a say in their own government.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement after the president’s speech, calling the preservation of an open Internet “essential.”

“I commend President Obama for his strong statement before the United Nations General Assembly that communications networks can and must play a vital role in advancing economic development, freedom, and human dignity around the globe,” he said. “It is essential that we preserve the open Internet and stand firmly behind the right of all people to connect with one another and to exchange ideas freely and without fear.”

This post was updated at 2:05 p.m.

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