Top State Department official: 2009 'worst year' ever for Web freedom

At an event on new communications technology, hosted by NDN, Senior Adviser on Innovation Alec Ross lamented that an increasing number of states have started approaching the Internet as "something that could sort of be built to order for their own country, like an intra-net."


According to Ross, that list of countries includes more than just China and Iran, which some U.S. businesses and congressional lawmakers have hammered recently for cracking down on dissidents online. Rather, Ross said it also applied to developing nations, a number of states "we consider to be friends" and a handful of others still "sitting on the fence."

"It's just now that the developing world is itself becoming digital," Ross said. "The choices they make will determine whether they see an age of enlightenment in the 21st century or a continuation of poverty."

"I personally am very concerned about the literally dozens of fence-sitting nations," he continued. "There are problems in Turkey, there are significant problems in Northern Africa ... as well as Latin America and Asia."

However, Ross predicted 2010 would be a "dynamic year in this respect," noting he was "optimistic" about the growth of technology in the developing world and the destruction of barriers that have made some online communication difficult.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "did not call for statute in her Internet freedom speech," the State Department adviser said, referencing the secretary's January address. "But Congress is getting increasingly agitated about the issue of Internet freedom, and the businesses [that operate in it]."