The real challenge for Internet freedom? US hypocrisy. And there's no app for that.
Good news: No more naive cliches
First, the good news. Gone is the cold war-era view of the Internet as a faster and leaner network of fax machines on steroids. While Clinton's 2010 address was full of references to the “information curtain [that] is descending upon much of the world”, to the Berlin Wall that is being replaced by “virtual walls”, and to “viral videos and blog posts [that] are becoming the samizdat of our day”, her most recent speech has avoided such banal cliches and historically inappropriate metaphors altogether.
Equally sobering was Clinton's acknowledgment that “there is no app” for solving the problem of Internet control. While it's important to continue investing in tools to circumvent censorship schemes of authoritarian governments, Internet filtering is just one of the many tools in their arsenal. Finding a way to protect independent publishers from cyber-attacks and other forms of online intimidation is equally important.
Another piece of good news is the State Department's reluctance to take a stand in the brewing debate of whether the Internet is a tool for liberation or oppression (Clinton characterized this debate as “largely beside the point”). Clearly, it's a tool for both; the degree to which it's liberating or oppressing often depends on the political and social context – and not on the individual characteristics of a given Internet technology. It's reassuring to see Clinton strike a reasonable balance between cyber-utopianism and cyber-pessimism; adopting a cyber-realist posture and treating the Internet as it is (and not how we would like it to be) is the right way forward.