Past U.S. administrations have sought to expand the borders of democracy, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is about to take that concept to a whole new level; she's declaring that U.S. policy is to advocate for basic freedom and human rights in cyberspace.
The announcement, to come in a speech this morning on Internet freedom, stakes out new ground for U.S. foreign policy, establishing that the United States is now committed to defend such basic rights as freedoms of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly, on the internet, from now on. [UPDATE: Read the speech here.]
"Freedom is no longer defined solely by whether citizens can go into the town square and criticize their government without fear of retribution," Clinton will say according to her prepared remarks. "Blogs, email, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas -- and created new targets for censorship."
Clinton also plans to break new ground by directly addressing the Chinese government's suspected hacking of dozens of American technology firms, including Google, and calling on new rules of the road in cyberspace that would hold nation states accountable for their cyber attack and cyber espionage activities.
"Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation," she will say. "In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all. By reinforcing that message, we can create norms of behavior among states and encourage respect for the global networked commons."
To back up the new policy, Clinton will also announce a new $15 million in programming to promote Internet freedom, expand access to the Internet for women and other groups; train and support civil society groups and NGOs in the use of new media technologies; and support a series of new media pilot projects starting to expand civic society in the Middle East and North Africa.
"As the birthplace for so many of these technologies, we have a responsibility to see them used for good," her speech reads.
This is a major evolution of how the U.S. government views its role in cyberspace and although the details are yet to be worked out, the consequences of the announcement could be far-reaching.
State Department official Jared Cohen, the guy who got Twitter to delay maintenance during the Iranian street protests, told The Cable that the State Department will now start engaging corporations as "stakeholders" to cooperate with the new U.S. policy to promote and defend freedom in cyberspace.
"The Internet represents the new virtual commons, and the State Department has the mission to insert the issues of freedom of speech, human rights, and democracy into these new commons," Cohen said. "This notion of shared responsibility between companies will likely suggest that collaborative efforts to promote human rights and democracy."
Clinton also plans to integrate the internet into all of the other tools of diplomacy, a mission she calls "21st century statecraft," another shift that could change the way the U.S. government approaches the Internet.
"Elevating Internet freedom as a major element of foreign policy will help us achieve all of our other foreign policy goals," Cohen said.
Clinton's speech begins at 9:30 at the Newseum.