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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at Internet Governance Forum João Pessoa, Brazil

November 10, 2015

 

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum
João Pessoa, Brazil
November 10, 2015

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you.  At the outset, let me congratulate our host nation, Brazil, as the first country to have hosted two meetings of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).  It is fitting that Brazil, with its strong tradition of supporting multistakeholder Internet governance, be the first country to earn this honor.

Over the past 10 years, the IGF has proven itself to be an indispensable platform for addressing Internet issues.  I look forward each year to attending the IGF and meeting with this diverse collection of stakeholders to tackle the challenges facing the Internet.  This year I am pleased to see important innovations in the IGF’s intersessional work on items such as the best practices forums and the IGF policy options document on connecting the next billion. These and other innovations will enrich the conversations this week in Brazil.

As we mark the 10-year anniversaries of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the IGF, it is important to take stock of where we have come and the challenges ahead.  There is much to celebrate in how the Internet has evolved into a platform for global economic growth, innovation and free speech.  The open Internet is helping the economies and societies of both developed and developing nations.  Not only has it created a dynamic and growing digital economy, it has transformed just about every facet of our day-to-day lives.  Every one of us has a stake in ensuring the continued growth, job formation and wealth creation that an open Internet brings.

In the United States, we attribute that success in large part to the bottom-up, multistakeholder approach to resolving technical and policy challenges facing the Internet.   This is why we are such strong supporters of the IGF – one of the preeminent international examples of this approach – and have called for an extension of the IGF that is consistent with its original mandate.  We are pleased that so many countries have echoed this call.  If collectively, we continue to support multistakeholder Internet governance, if we make it more inclusive of developing countries and more responsive to all stakeholders, then we can truly achieve the Information Society we envisioned 10 years ago.

In the United States, we are committed to multistakeholder Internet governance, as convincingly demonstrated by our announcement in March 2014 that the U.S. government would transition its historical stewardship role over the Internet Domain Name System to the multistakeholder community.  Since that time, the response from the community of technical experts, academics, civil society and industry has been inspiring.  Over the past year and a half, stakeholders have worked hundreds of hours to complete a transition proposal that meets the criteria we have outlined.  We are hopeful the working groups will complete their work in the coming weeks.

This work is tiring; sometimes contentious; perhaps exasperating.  No doubt, this is not an easy task.  But it is an important one.  All of us should appreciate the effort and level of commitment demonstrated by all the participants in this process.  Most importantly, the process is working and I am confident it will be successful.  It will be a testament to the strength of the multistakeholder process when the transition is completed.

But even with the growth of international support for multistakeholder governance, there is continued cause for concern.  Freedom House’s 2015 report on Internet freedom finds that Internet freedom around the world is in decline for a fifth consecutive year.  More governments are censoring information from their citizens and attempting to put up barriers to the open Internet within their borders.  

The growth of sophisticated malware and other cyber security threats, the need to protect the privacy of Internet users and the mounting online theft of intellectual property online have challenged governments’ ability to balance these important interests with the equally important need for openness. Governments increasingly feel compelled to do something they see as meaningful – if not outright drastic – to protect their citizens and their businesses from these threats.

Regrettably, in their attempts to do something to protect their citizens and businesses, governments sometimes rush to put up digital walls between their countries and the rest of the world, between their citizens and people abroad.  In recent years, we have seen governments institute data localization laws, as well as impose limitations on data storage and data transfer.

Historically, these kinds of restrictive policies have tended to be pursued by authoritarian governments that want to try to control information and monitor the activities of their citizens.  In recent years, however, even democratic countries have considered restrictions on data flows.

Such proposals do far more harm than good.  Restricting data flows and competition between firms increase costs for Internet users and businesses, retard technological innovation, and may curb freedom of expression.

This assessment may seem like common sense to many of us in this room.  But it is not accepted by everyone. And that is why it is imperative that we continue multistakeholder venues like the IGF. They allow us – as representatives of diverse stakeholder communities – to come together, to offer our unique perspectives, to work through our most difficult problems, and to make a case for policies and practices that encourage the development of an open and innovative Internet.

In closing, I urge all nations to step up in support of the free and open Internet and the multistakeholder process that has led to its success.  If we want to maintain a vibrant and growing Internet, we must all take action to ensure that the multistakeholder approach continues to define the future of Internet governance. 

Thank you for listening.