Discussing free expression at Internet at Liberty 2010

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

It’s not often that we get to step out of our everyday jobs and spend extended time engaging in global conversations about one of our fundamental values at Google: ensuring access to information. For three days last week in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, we had that chance when more than 300 bloggers, activists, academics, government officials and representatives of non-profits and business convened for “Internet at Liberty 2010.” The conference, which we co-hosted with the Central European University, focused on “the promise and peril of online free expression” and the role of individuals, corporations and government in protecting free expression online.

The conference drew participants from 74 countries, including many from places where free expression is constantly under threat—such as Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. It drew a large contingent of bloggers and activists from the Middle East and representatives from both the Iranian and Chinese diasporas. Our liveblog of the conference was followed by more than 3.3 million people around the world.

The issues at the heart of the gathering—and the challenges faced by free expression advocates the world over, were highlighted by our senior vice president, David Drummond, when in his opening remarks to the conference he quoted an email from an activist who could not obtain permission to attend “Internet at Liberty.” The activist wrote:
Everywhere I turned, I was only talking to a repetition of the same monomaniac mind where all the keywords around the conference were defined as dangerous and forbidden: ‘liberty,’ ‘access,’ ‘Internet,’ ‘Google,’ and even such simple words as ‘university,’ ‘conference’ and ‘Europe.’ Upon a second investigation, I realized that they are not afraid of these things because of their intrinsic identity, but because they can transform me from a passive and obedient member of the mass to a free, critical, creative and active citizen.
Also at the conference, we introduced Google Transparency Report, an interactive online site that allows users to see where governments are demanding that we remove content and where Google services are being blocked. (Read more in our blog post.) Other sessions included a debate on the question, “Is the potential of the Internet as a force for positive political change being oversold?” and workshops offering practical education and tools for lobbying governments on key issues.

Visit our website for the conference, which we plan to turn into a discussion and action forum for those who attended the conference and—we hope—thousands more. Our aim is to bring together people who share the common goal of promoting free expression on the Internet. We want to build constituencies behind key initiatives including helping individuals protect themselves online; promoting corporate and government transparency; finding the right balance between privacy and free expression; and making sure that platforms like Google aren’t held liable for content they host.

We’re committed to reaching far beyond the results of the Budapest conference and the banks of the Danube to help ensure that online free expression, like the Internet itself, knows no borders.