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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at Internet Society’s InterCommunity 2016

September 21, 2016

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Society’s InterCommunity 2016
Washington, D.C.
September 21, 2016

I want to thank Kathy Brown and Sally Wentworth for inviting me here today to participate in your program. I want to talk about a topic that we have made a top priority during my seven years at NTIA.

I know many of you here in this room and watching from around the world are familiar with multistakeholder processes through the work of ICANN and the IANA stewardship transition. However, I want to spend a few minutes going into more detail about why we see this as not just as a tool for global technical Internet issues but also as a potential alternative to address a far broader set of policy issues.

Clearly, this model has a successful record of accomplishment when it comes to technical Internet issues. All of us have watched in awe over the past two years as the global Internet community, comprised of businesses, technical experts, public interest groups and governments, has engaged in one of the most compelling demonstrations of a multistakeholder process ever undertaken through the work on the IANA stewardship transition.

Given the intensive level of effort that went into developing the IANA transition plan and building consensus for it from all parts of the ICANN community, it is no surprise that today we find all sectors of the community -- businesses, civil society and technical experts -- supporting the transition.  I want to thank the Internet Society and Kathy Brown in particular for your steadfast support of the transition. I know you and other supporters want to see the United States follow through on its long-standing, bipartisan commitment to complete the privatization of the domain name system. And as I told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, we need to show our trust in the private sector and the work of technical experts from around the world, global businesses and civil society, who have delivered a thoughtful, consensus plan by supporting this long-promised privatization.

At NTIA, we have been inspired by the efforts of the IANA transition multistakeholder working groups. We are putting our time and resources into adapting the multistakeholder process to address other issues because we know it can help build trust in the digital ecosystem and can be an effective tool not just to make progress on Internet policy challenges. The process has the ability to produce -- in a timely way -- meaningful guideposts for industry and consumers in this rapidly evolving technological environment.

As we have thought about how to use the process more widely, we have focused on two key attributes that we think are critical in the design of any multistakeholder approach: participation and consensus decision-making.

Let me start with participation. Internet policy issues draw a much larger range of stakeholders than traditional telecommunications issues. One key benefit of multistakeholder processes is that they can include and engage all interested parties. And as I’ve mentioned, these parties can include industry, civil society, government, technical and academic experts and even the general public. The Internet is a diverse, multi-layered system that thrives only through the cooperation of many different parties. Solving, or even meaningfully discussing, policy issues in this space, requires engaging these different parties. Indeed, by encouraging the participation of all interested parties, multistakeholder processes can encourage broader and more creative problem solving.

The second key attribute is consensus decision-making. For a multistakeholder group to succeed, its members must know that they will be the ones to make the decision -- not someone else -- and that it must be a consensus decision. Some countries or organizations have run what they call multistakeholder processes than in reality are only consultations because the group is not empowered to make the final decisions. When groups know that they control the final decisions, they are more likely to put in the extra effort often needed to reach a true consensus. Usually, reaching consensus requires making compromises but the group has to feel that reaching a shared decision is the most important goal.  Otherwise, stakeholders who are satisfied with the status quo can be destructive to a multistakeholder process.

Participants must believe that the multistakeholder process has the legitimacy to reach a decision. They must have some trust in those convening the process and a sense that the participants are representative of the broader community. Often that legitimacy may come from government or some other “official” entity that convenes the process. But that does not always have to be the case. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an example of a successful multistakeholder body that has gained legitimacy organically over the years and did not require the blessing of a government agency like NTIA. Instead, it gained legitimacy by producing voluntary standards of the highest quality and through open, transparent and inclusive processes.

In the United States, the legitimacy of multistakeholder processes that we have convened has certainly been helped by our involvement and by their open and transparent manner.  But government does not always need to be the legitimizing force.  So while legitimacy is a crucial factor in the success of multistakeholder process, there may be many different ways to obtain it.

So let me tell you how we’ve been using this process in the United States. Keep in mind that my agency, NTIA, is not a regulator, like our Federal Communications Commission. However, we have been able to make progress on issues of privacy, intellectual property and cybersecurity by organizing and facilitating multistakeholder discussions on these issues.

Like ICANN, our domestic processes are open to anyone who wishes to participate. And we have carefully circumscribed our role to act as the neutral convener and facilitator. We take care not to substitute our judgment for that of the stakeholders.

We have convened industry, academics, privacy advocates and other interested stakeholders to develop codes of conduct and best practices that implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights as outlined in President Obama's Blueprint on Consumer Data Privacy.  After more than a year of work, stakeholders reached consensus on a code of conduct to provide improved privacy notices for mobile devices. In June, stakeholders wrapped up work on a set of best practices to help protect privacy related to the commercial use of facial recognition technology.

Last year, the President directed NTIA to convene stakeholders to develop best practices on privacy, transparency and accountability issues related to the commercial and private use of unmanned aircraft systems, better known as drones. After several months of hard work, a diverse group of stakeholders -- including  privacy and consumer advocates, industry, news organizations and trade associations -- announced in May that they had reached agreement on a best practices document.

On the copyright front, NTIA collaborated with our sister agency, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, on a multistakeholder process to explore ways to improve the operation of the notice and takedown system for removing infringing content from the Internet under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. After many meetings, stakeholders completed a helpful list of good, bad, and situational practices aimed at improving the processing of DMCA notices by both senders and recipients.

On cybersecurity, stakeholders are working to finish principles and guidance for the disclosure of cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Next month, we will be convening a new process to support better consumer understanding of the need for security upgrades in Internet of Things products.

We do not see multistakeholder processes as replacing the need for legislation and regulation. However, this tool can be an effective way to address emerging issues in the evolving technological landscape. It allows for nimble, flexible approaches that participants can agree upon and modify much faster than traditional regulatory or legislative models would allow.

If we addressed all technological policy challenges with the typical Washington regulatory or legislative processes, we might still be waiting for a resolution. Worse, by the time laws or regulations were finalized, we would likely find that the problem they were intended to solve no longer exists or has evolved into a totally different challenge. Utilizing multistakeholder processes, we can minimize the likelihood of hamstringing technologists and users from creating the robust, evolving Internet we enjoy today. 

The U.S. government, including our Congress, has long championed the multistakeholder approach as the preferred tool for dealing with Internet policy issues. At NTIA, we will continue to trumpet the advantages of this approach wherever we can, both domestically and internationally. I ask all of you who support the model to help educate others about it and to push back against the ignorance sometimes displayed by opponents or skeptics of the approach, few of whom have ever actually participated in the process. We all want to protect Internet freedom and promoting the multistakeholder model is central to that protection.

Thank you for listening.