State to host celebration of digital information openness

State to host celebration of digital information openness

Before the WikiLeaks crisis, the State Department began a new initiative called "21st Century Statecraft", which includes a drive to expand openness and combat government censorship in cyberspace.

As part of that initiative, the State Department announced on Tuesday that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, meant to champion the free flow of information on the Internet. The event will be held at the Newseum in Washington from May 1 to 3, and the theme will be "21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers."

"New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information," State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement. "We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age."

The UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, which "honors a person, organization or institution that has notably contributed to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom, especially where risks have been undertaken," will be awarded at the event.

One man who presumably won’t be getting that award is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who justifies the leaking of over 250,000 classified diplomatic cables as part of his own drive to expand freedom of information online. Assange was arrested today in London on charges of rape and sexual molestation leveled against him in Sweden.

In response to Assange’s latest threat to release unredacted cables as a means of "insurance" against legal action, Crowley tweeted Tuesday, "Julian #Assange comes clean as opportunist, threatens to put others at risk to save his own hide."

The State Department has never argued that Internet freedom should include the freedom to leak classified documents. But the ongoing WikiLeaks crisis has highlighted the risks inherent in pushing for an online world without controls and could complicate the U.S. message about the free flow of digital information.

"We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her landmark speech on Internet freedom in January.

In the same speech, however, Clinton warned that Internet freedom does not justify internet crime.

"Those who use the Internet to recruit terrorists or distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities," she said.