THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other international leaders urged countries and private businesses on Thursday to fight increasing efforts to restrict access to the Internet by repressive governments and even some democratic ones.
Opening a two-day conference on digital freedom here sponsored by Google and the Dutch government, Clinton warned that restrictions on the Internet threatened not only basic freedoms and human rights, but also international commerce and the free flow of information that increasingly makes it possible.
“When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us,” Clinton said. She added: “There isn’t an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet. There’s just the Internet.”
Clinton and others cited examples in which autocratic countries — often with the assistance of international technology corporations — cracked down on access to the Internet or the use of it, including Syria, Iran, China, and Russia. But increasingly some democratic countries have tried to restrict information, underscoring the complexity of controlling an essential part of modern life.
On Dec. 1, South Korea’s Communications Commission said it would start reviewing social networking services and mobile applications to remove offensive or immoral content. Officials described the changes, including adding an eight-member team to monitor social media sites, as a necessary measure against North Korean propaganda.
Four days later, the minister of communications in India said it, too, would develop a way to screen information on the Internet and remove content it found offensive or deemed incendiary, after Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft jointly refused to do so.
“More and more countries are trying now to regulate and control the Internet,” Uri Rosenthal, the foreign minister of the Netherlands, said after meeting separately with Clinton on Thursday. “And it is unacceptable that websites are blocked, Internet queues are filtered, content manipulated, and bloggers are attacked and imprisoned.”
Clinton cited the imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny, a widely followed blogger who has challenged the results of Russia’s Dec. 4 parliamentary elections, and the arrest of a Syrian blogger, Anas al-Marawi, who has opposed the government of President Bashar Assad and its crackdown. “These and many other incidents worldwide remind of us of the stakes of this struggle,” she said.