(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog and the European Public Policy blog)
Google has long worked hard to raise the issue of Internet freedom in Europe. So when the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal took the initiative to host a meeting bringing together foreign ministers from more than 16 countries in the Netherlands, we wondered what could we do to support it.
Our answer was to hook up with the Dutch NGO Free Press Unlimited and host one of our Big Tent events, which aim to bring together corporations, civil society and politicians. We were delighted when both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Minister Rosenthal agreed to take part. Our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt welcomed them to the Fokker Terminal in The Hague. “We are joined in a spirit to fight people who want to shut down free speech," he said. "It makes easy sense for a government to say: 'We don't like that...we're going to censor it'.” The conference, he said, was organized "to make the point that this is not right."
Secretary of State Clinton called on companies to protect Internet freedoms and stop selling technology that allows repressive governments to censor the net or spy on Internet users. She urged corporations to join Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others in the Global Network Initiative to resist government efforts to impose filtering or censoring requirements. She also called on governments to fight attempts to impose national controls on the net. Any such attempt would contain people in a “series of digital bubbles rather than connecting them,” she said. "It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of Internet content or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another.”
Minister Uri Rosenthal called for legislation against exports of Internet surveillance material and promised 6 million euros to help Internet activists in repressive regimes. High-powered contributions came from the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and European parliamentarian Marietje Schaake.
A panel brought together business leaders and prominent human rights activists, including the Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, better known as Jiew, who faces trial over comments posted on her site that were deemed insulting to the monarchy.
The Hague is our third Big Tent (see highlights here), a place where we bring together various viewpoints to discuss essential topics to the future of the Internet. The format seems to be a hit, and we plan to hold more around the world in the coming months.