Remarks at Cybersecurity Forum, Georgetown University

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
September 23, 2010

Press Release

Thank you, Craig, for those kind words. 

And thank you to everyone who is attending this important conference this week.

As we all know, the Internet has already fundamentally changed how we communicate with each other.  And seemingly overnight, it’s altered how the world does business.

Every day, tens of millions of Americans shop, sell, bank, learn, talk and work online … and every day they are joined by hundreds of millions of people across the globe doing exactly the same things.

Each year, the world does an estimated $10 trillion of businesses online.  Nearly every transaction you can think of can now be done over the internet:

  • Consumers can pay their utility bills from their smart phones;
  • People download movies, music, books and artwork into their homes;
  • And companies, from the smallest local store to the largest multinational corporation, are ordering their goods, paying their vendors and selling to their customers online. 

In 10 years, global online transactions are estimated to exceed $24 trillion annually.

It’s fair to say that the Internet has lived up to the hype.

It is now unparalleled in its ability to drive U.S. innovation and economic growth. 

A recent study showed that between 1998 and 2008, the number of domestic Information Technology jobs grew by 26 percent, four times faster than U.S. employment as a whole.  

By 2018, IT employment is expected to grow by another 22 percent.

At a time when we are still righting ourselves after the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. . . at a time when we need to replace the nearly eight million jobs our economy shed over the past two years, IT jobs and jobs in high technology offer an important answer.

However, the Internet will not reach its full potential as a medium until users feel more secure than they do today when they go online.  

The Internet still faces something of a “trust” issue.

The equation is simple: the greater the trust, the more that people understand the Internet’s capabilities and also its limits, the more that people will rely on it for ever-more sophisticated applications and services.

But the seeds of mistrust can be sown by myriad actors in countless ways.

Data breaches, malware, ID theft and spam are some of the most common and pernicious invasions of a user’s privacy and security.

At the Commerce Department, we’ve stood up an Internet Policy Task Force to address these and other issues. 

We officially launched this Task Force in April.  It’s made up of experts from across the Department – experts in trade policy, intellectual property, information policy and standards.  And it’s chartered to look at the most pressing Internet issues of the day. After extensive consultations with the public, it will make policy recommendations to the rest of the Administration.

So far, our Task Force is working on a report about privacy policy.

We released a Notice of Inquiry on privacy issues in May, and we received more than 70 public comments.  Right now, the team is deliberating on its recommendations. 

Earlier this week, comments on cybersecurity issues were due – and we’ve received four dozen comments.  The team will be reviewing and assimilating those comments quickly.  They understand the timeliness of that topic.

Internet privacy and cybersecurity are critical issues.  But rather than go into the details in either area, and because our Task Force will soon issues reports, I’d like to step back today and talk about how these issues fit into a larger context. 

Today, I am announcing the official launch of an additional Task Force project – one focused on preserving the global, Free Flow of Information on the Internet.

It’s likely that many of you saw a recent cover story in The Economist alluding to “the Web’s new walls."

The theme of the article is that the openness of the Internet is in jeopardy. 

As the Internet has grown, and as it’s become more central to the lives of people and to economies, we are seeing an increasing number of government policies around the world that restrict the free flow of information on the Web.

Many of these policy efforts, in particular those centered on censorship, have deep human rights implications. 

As I’m sure you’re well aware, last January, Secretary of State Clinton addressed Internet freedom in an important speech here in Washington.  She spoke about how the Internet has provided unprecedented opportunities for people in every corner of the planet.  And she talked about how governments should not stand in the way of the human struggle towards freedom and progress.

She said that new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but that the United States does. 

And let me say how proud I am to be a part of an administration that is addressing head-on questions about how the Internet impacts freedom, democracy, opportunity, and personal responsibility. 

But while we work to ensure that the Internet remains an open marketplace for ideas and beliefs, it must also remain an open marketplace for business.  

In recent years, however, we have seen a significant up-tick in threats to the free flow of information on the Internet. 

Censorship continues to be a significant problem in too many countries, and a range of new Internet-related regulations, or other actions by governments around the world, are springing up as speed bumps on the information superhighway.

At one level, we are dealing with questions that concern national sovereignty.  We recognize that enhanced efforts to combat cyber-crimes and to protect a nation’s national security needs are necessary.

But there seems to be the growing risk that idiosyncratic regulations are implemented not to protect a state’s legitimate interests, but rather to undermine fair competition or create market share for preferred businesses.

Take the example of Voice Over IP (Internet Protocol).  As most of you know, this technology lets consumers make phone calls using the Internet instead of traditional telephone lines.  In many cases, VoIP calls can cost a fraction as much as traditional telephone calls, and the technology has tremendous potential.

But some countries are erecting barriers to Voice Over IP, and these barriers threaten to stifle this incredibly promising technology.  

Aside from any impact on freedom of expression, we at the Commerce Department are mindful that the proliferation of these types of regulations – in multiple jurisdictions and in multiple articulations – has an impact on commerce and innovation.   

The Internet can continue to thrive as a global communications and services medium – spawning new inventions and businesses, creating new benefits for consumers – only as long as it is not hamstrung by inconsistent or conflicting regulations around the world.

While it is easy to emphasize the importance of the free flow of information to the health of the Internet, we expect that sustaining the Internet’s openness will be harder to ensure.

 It will take a great deal of persistence on multiple fronts. 

The Economist article that I mentioned earlier described this issue succinctly when it said, “The Internet is as much a trade pact as an innovation. . .. Just as a free-trade agreement between countries increases the size of the market and boosts gains from trade, so the internet led to greater gains from the exchange of data and allowed innovation to flourish.”

At the Commerce Department, we feel strongly that the Internet must remain, as much as possible, a worldwide open market, one where vigorous competition is allowed to thrive and where trade barriers are negligible.

This is a guiding principle for us.  It animates much of what we do.  It can be seen in our effort to implement the National Export Initiative that President Obama announced earlier this year, which seeks to double our exports within five years while supporting several million jobs here at home.

A primary focus of the NEI is the continued emphasis on removing barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting free and fair access to foreign markets.

Internet restrictions imposed by sovereign nations pose a real quandary; whether or not they amount to non-tariff trade barrier remains an active question.

And it’s one that the Commerce Department is intent on exploring.

So today, I am announcing a new undertaking by the Department’s Internet Policy Task Force – one aimed at helping articulate the nature of the threat to the free flow of information online, and one we hope will help policymakers make informed judgments about how to address social and economic issues that arise online while minimally impacting information flows.

In the coming days, the Department will publish in the Federal Register another Notice of Inquiry.  It will seek your written input on a number of questions, such as:

  • What types of restrictions on the free flow of information are emerging?  How widespread, or conversely, how localized are those policies?
  • What rationales are being offered for restricting the flow of information online, and to what extent do those rationales seem justified – or are there cases where the rationales poorly justify the breadth of a policy action?  Are some restrictions thinly veiled non-tariff trade barriers?

We want to understand the impact of restrictions on the free flow of information in terms of trade losses and threats to innovation.

And most importantly, we are seeking input on how to effectively engage on these topics both internationally and domestically.  Are there best practices worth emulating?

We’re again seeking your community’s input, because we know these questions lack easy answers.  We need your help to articulate to us how we can tailor, how to balance, Internet policy in an evolving global marketplace.

We are seeking the benefit of your experiences in trying to develop and sell Internet services around the world. 

We are seeking your thoughts about how to sustain the free flow of information on the Internet, while at the same time helping to address legitimate challenges to the health and trustworthiness of the medium.

So thank you. 

I wish you the best with the rest of your conference.  And we look forward to your feedback.