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Carl Bildt: Tear down these walls against Internet freedom

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By Carl Bildt
Monday, January 25, 2010

A decade and a half ago, when I was prime minister of Sweden, then-President Bill Clinton and I had the first e-mail exchange between heads of state. Already our two nations were at the forefront of the technological revolution about to transform our world.

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We had just left an era in which communist dictatorships had tried to control fax machines and the Moscow phone directory was a closely held secret. Today, fax machines are definitely yesterday, and classical phone directories are more or less out of business.

Since that groundbreaking e-mail exchange we have seen the revolution in mobile communication coming out of Europe and the Internet revolution coming out of the United States transform the politics and economics of our world.

Today there are approximately 4 billion mobile phone users worldwide. The number of Internet users is approaching 2 billion. For several billion people, the village has become a truly global one.

Two decades ago a wall made of concrete, built to divide the free and unfree, was torn down. Today it is the freedom of cyberspace that is under threat from regimes as keen as dictatorships past to control and limit the possibilities of their citizens. They are trying to build firewalls against freedom.

At the end of the day, I am convinced they are fighting a losing battle -- that cyber walls are as certain to fall as the walls of concrete once did.

When Sweden held the presidency of the European Union last year, we raised the issue of Internet freedom as part of our human rights agenda, and we will continue to highlight this and related issues.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's address on Internet freedom last week has brought this issue the political attention it deserves. We should now forge a new transatlantic partnership for protecting and promoting the freedoms of cyberspace. Together, we should call for all these walls to be torn down.

Our efforts to promote and protect the freedoms of cyberspace should go hand in hand with protecting the infrastructure of cyberspace, which is increasingly important to our societies.

Much like the way the rule of the law is critical to protecting the freedoms we enjoy as citizens in our societies, and international law protects the peace between our nations, we must seek to shape the rules that will protect the rights and the freedom of cyberspace.

This area of international affairs is still in its infancy but is of tremendous importance for the future of the international community. There are difficult issues to tackle -- as we are beginning to see in the debates in our respective countries. They deserve to be at the very top of the agenda of nations cherishing the values of freedom.

The writer is Sweden's minister of foreign affairs.

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