New international laws are not needed to protect human rights online, even as they are increasingly under attack, a top State Department official said on Tuesday.
Kicking off the annual State of the Net Conference, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner said governments should not feel entitled to repress human rights.
"Let me state for the record that international law applies to online behavior. Full stop," he said. "We do not need to reinvent international human rights law, or our enduring principles, to account for the Internet. No deed is more evil -- or more noble -- when it is committed online rather than offline."
The revolutions of the Arab Spring highlighted the power of the Internet -- and government efforts to suppress it, Posner said. "Repressive regimes trembled at the power of people connected."
While Posner argued that Internet access itself is not a human rights, governments and corporations have a responsibility to respect and protect rights online.
"We believe that creators and purveyors of technologies have a responsibility to respect human rights through their products and their practices," Posner said. "Moreover, the responsibility of corporations to respect human rights extends far beyond the creators of a given technology. It is the responsibility of every company."
The State Department and other U.S. agencies have spent some $70 million to promote Internet freedom, but Posner said those technology and programs aren't aimed at political goals.
"Let me be clear about U.S. policy: We don't promote Internet freedom or connective technologies as a means of promoting regime change," he said.