Senator says Internet essential for diplomacy

The ability for the Internet to spur unfettered communication makes it a great medium for spreading the message of freedom to those living under repression, Senator George Allen, a Republican from Virginia, told U.S. Department of State employees at the agency’s NetDiplomacy 2001 conference held here Wednesday.

Allen, who is the chairman of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force, spoke to the State Department crowd to encourage the use of the Internet and technology in global diplomacy and in disseminating information about the United States. He dubbed the Internet a modern-day version of Gutenberg’s printing press because of its power to inform and educate.

The senator offered the example of how free flow of information in the People’s Republic of China could help bring about greater freedom for its citizens. Today, though Web access is on the rise in that country, the government restricts what information citizens can view “in a way that Americans would be protesting in the streets,” Allen said.”If we could get in there and disperse our ideas (via the Internet), that internally would lead, I hope, to greater liberties.” Allen tempered his remarks by adding that he supports the government’s current diplomatic policy with China.

“As policy makers, we need to make sure that these technologies are available in other countries,” he continued. To that end, Allen said that Congress must revamp the Export Administration Act of 1979, which restricts foreign availability of domestically-made technology products that were once viewed as instruments to threaten national security. The senator argued that instead of protecting the country, these controls are harming the high-tech industry by banning some overseas sales.”The act needs to be changed so we keep that leading edge in technology,” he said. Allen also argued his case Tuesday during a Senate floor debate on export controls.

During his speech, Allen also lauded Secretary of State Colin Powell for his stated intentions to increase the use of IT throughout the State Department. Powell is scheduled to address the NetDiplomacy 2001 audience on Thursday.

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