UK, US warn over internet freedom

2011-11-01 22:11

London - Britain and the United States appealed on Tuesday for internet freedom at a global conference designed to set up the "rules of the road" for cyberspace, although critics accused Western powers of hypocrisy.

Government officials, tech firms, NGOs, bloggers and security experts from more than 60 countries attended the two-day talks in London, and US Vice President Joe Biden also gave an address via video-link from Washington.

In his opening speech to delegates including officials from Russia and China, William Hague said the social and economic benefits of the internet were huge and warned that any states trying to block online activity would lose out.

"We must aspire to a future for cyberspace which is not stifled by government control or censorship, but where innovation and competition flourish and investment and enterprise are rewarded," the foreign secretary said.

Hague warned that human rights, particularly the right to privacy and freedom of expression, "should carry full force online".

"We reject the view that government suppression of the internet, phone networks and social media at times of unrest is acceptable," he said.

Biden echoed Hague, saying that while the internet presented opportunities for wrongdoing "on a vast scale" from terrorism to human trafficking, child pornography to attacks on government systems, they were no excuse for censorship.

"In our quest for security, we believe that we cannot sacrifice the openness that makes possible all the benefits and opportunities that the internet brings," he said, standing in for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who had to cancel due to the illness of her mother, who later died.

He added: "Those countries that try to have it both ways by making the internet closed to freedom of expression but open for business will find that this is no easy task."


Although both men were referring to crackdowns in the Middle East and North Africa and efforts by countries such as China and Russia to control the flow of information, Britain faces accusations of hypocrisy.

In August, when rioting broke out across English cities, Prime Minister David Cameron had mooted the idea of stopping rioters communicating via social media, although the government did not take it any further.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, highlighted this at a side meeting at the conference, saying: "It's very easy to defend this case of black and white human rights against dictatorships around the world.

"But as soon as our own western-style stability of the state is called into question, well then freedom of expression is expendable. There should be one rule for all including western governments."

He said Hague had challenged Cameron on his stance at the time, and in his brief address to the conference on Tuesday, the prime minister insisted it was important to "strike a balance... between freedom and a free-for-all".

William Echikson, Google's head of free expression in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, also warned at the conference that Western governments were not immune from wanting to control the Internet.

Freedom of expression "is being challenged closer to home here in Europe. There are some 60 countries which impose controls now on the internet, and that's up from two a decade ago," Echikson said.

He cited a case last year when three Google Italy executives were convicted of violation of privacy over an internet video of bullying, adding: "The dangers are really here in the present and they are threatening companies like Google."

The London talks cover a broad agenda including cyber security, and Hague said it would aim to set up some basic global principles for cyberspace.

"In the place of today's cyber free-for-all, we need rules of the road," he said, adding that Hungary had agreed to hold a follow-on conference in 2012, and South Korea would hold another similar meeting in 2013.

Read more on:    william hague  |  joe biden  |  social networks  |  internet

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Five wrapping hacks you have to know before Christmas

Five gift wrapping hacks that will save Christmas for you!


I love summer.24

Sexiest Instagrams of 2014
Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!
Summer Survey!
Great ideas for the best summer sandwiches!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Area Manager - Retail

Western Cape
Evolve Personnel
R20 000 - R25 000 Per Month

Restaurant Manager

Western Cape
SET Recruitment Consultants
R20 000 - R30 000 Per Month

upply Chain Manager

Western Cape
ZIMCO Group (PTY) Ltd
R30 000 - R40 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go! - shop online today

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at While stocks last. Shop now!

30% off the bestselling books

Save big on the most captivating reads of 2014. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


The energy today is serious, materialistic and hardworking. You may find you get a new outlook on things and you may want to more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.