Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal has pledged six million euros towards internet freedom projects. Speaking in The Hague at the international Freedom Online conference, Rosenthal said on Thursday that it was unacceptable that countries are increasingly blocking websites, obstructing and manipulating the publishing of online information, and prosecuting and imprisoning bloggers.
' Great initiative'
Syrian blogger 'Khaled', who withholds his name for fear of his family's safety, praised the Dutch support for bloggers in dictatorially governed countries. But, he said, it must be clear how the money is being used, and by whom.
'I think it's a great initiative. Especially as we saw the impact of social media today. Because social media turned every citizen into a journalist, I think it is a great initiative if the funds were allocated in a correct way. For me it would be creating a dedicated platform for human rights and for the protection of citizens who are bloggers, media citizens or journalists. A platform especially designed for bloggers and serving human rights.'
Foreign Minister Rosenthal said,
"For that matter the Dutch government is allocating one million euro to support projects providing backup internet solutions and mesh networks and rapid response mechanisms to bloggers and others in repressive environments. Over the next four years five million euros from our Human Rights Fund will go towards projects promoting internet freedom. Targeted countries include for instance Zimbabwe, Syria and Iran."
At the conference Rosenthal pleaded for an international Coalitioin of Countries, a forum to gather and discuss information about breaches of internet freedom. This should involve social organisations, technology companies and individual citizens.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the conference that she is worried about the growth of dictatorial regimes' grip on the internet, and about the blockades they impose. Ms Clinton said that a partitioning of cyberspace into separate government-controlled national internet systems would be disastrous for internet freedom.
Secretary Clinton said she supported a ban on sales of "internet bugging devices" to dictatorial regimes, and would impose sanctions to enforce the ban. But businesses have a duty in this too: they should consider whether their technology could be used for the wrong ends. Ms Clinton said,
"Sometimes companies say to us at the State Department : tell us what to do and we’ll do it. The fact is, you can’t wait for instructions. In the 21 century smart companies have to react before they find themselves in the cross-hairs of controversy."
A similar appeal was made by Digital Agenda Eurocommissioner Neelie Kroes. She said that the ICT industry should be more open about the technology they are selling, and who they are selling it to. It would be even better, she added, if ICT businesses decided on moral grounds no longer to supply such equipment to dictatorial regimes.
On Friday the conference will try to reach a common position on guarantees for internet freedom and the role that the business world can play.