On Thursday I had the opportunity to join CDT Executive Director Leslie Harris when she spoke on a panel entitled "Freedom of Expression in the Internet Era" at the State Department's annual Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Officers Conference, "Defending the Defenders." The panel, which also featured speakers from the Jefferson Institute and the International Research & Exchanges Board, reviewed the state of freedom of speech, especially Internet speech, around the world, focusing on the challenges facing the media in restrictive environments. Leslie noted that repressive foreign regimes currently take a reactionary approach to Internet freedom of press, by which a journalist might be imprisoned or a blogger silenced, leading to worldwide outcry. Instead of this incident-based strategy, Leslie urged the proactive establishment of sound front-end policy frameworks for the Internet, opening the door for a free press to evolve on top of that policy. By keeping the barriers to entry low, letting users decide what content they add to and view on the Internet, and not holding operators liable for the content that passes over their networks, Leslie said, policymakers encourage a robust regime unburdened by self-imposed or governmental censorship. While U.S. Foreign Service workers are trying to urge Internet freedom in developing countries, Leslie pointed out, the United States' domestic policies can actually undermine its foreign policy efforts in this regard.
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