Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) for Outreach and Social Media Sumit Agarwal sat down with Reddit.com for its “Ask Me Anything” interview series, in which users of the social-networking news site posted questions.
The result was a far-reaching conversation on everything from net neutrality to the WikiLeaks disclosures.
Agarwal said he didn’t think net neutrality was as big an issue for the United States because of its strong tradition of free speech. But he said the U.S. response to it could have repercussions around the globe.
“I’m not sure that there will be any clear or negative impact(s) on our ability to communicate within the United States regardless of what happens with net neutrality,” Agarwal said. “I think outside the United States, whatever precedents are set by the actions we take with regard to net neutrality may have a positive impact or a negative impact in certain countries that have a strong or not so strong tradition of freedom of speech and censorship…”
One questioner prodded Agarwal on why the administration had not made more of a First Amendment case for net neutrality. Agarwal said he wasn’t “deeply familiar” with the White House’s position, but did offer some area of agreement.
“We (all) want free, unfettered innovation,” he said. “We want companies that didn’t exist yesterday to provide amazing new services tomorrow. On the other hand, we also want there to be speed, quality, robustness of service and investment in the internet. I think those are the things that we’re struggling to balance.”
Agarwal also noted the need for balance in releasing classified information, and took WikiLeaks to task for its disclosures.
“I think it was illegal for WikiLeaks to release the classified information that it did,” he said. “I don’t agree with that; I certainly don’t advocate it. It creates a tension between our making the raw information that our service members need on the front lines and our need to secure that information… There’s a balance that has to be struck between availability on the front lines and security on the back lines.”