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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at the Global Internet and Jurisdiction Conference

February 28, 2018

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Global Internet and Jurisdiction Conference
Ottawa, Canada
February 28, 2018

--As Prepared for Delivery--

Thank you, it’s great to be in Ottawa. I want to thank Bertrand de La Chapelle and the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network for organizing this conference and inviting me to speak.

We’re here because the Internet has fundamentally upended our prior understanding of national jurisdiction. Everyone here knows this, but it’s worth repeating nonetheless.

Today, data is moving around the globe in previously unimaginable quantities, crossing borders without recognition of national boundaries. Data that is created in one country is often sent to, stored in, and processed in multiple additional countries. In many jurisdictions, this is occurring against the backdrop of dated legal frameworks that are not equipped to respond to advances in technology.

I should say upfront that the free flow of data is a development worth celebrating. It’s been a driver of economic growth; it has led to widespread educational opportunities; and it has given a voice to people who have previously been relegated to silence.

But, as I’ve become keenly aware in my new role as Administrator of NTIA, it’s led to a variety of complex challenges for governments around the world, who must address the issues of privacy, security and logistics that come with the rapid growth and globalization of data.

Governments around the world are finding that the old ways of ensuring national security, conducting law enforcement operations, and protecting the privacy rights of their citizens are being challenged by a medium that does not conform to borders or existing legal regimes.

Indeed, the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network’s three workstreams hit at the heart of these challenges. 

In the “data and jurisdiction” discussion, for instance, we see how prior methods of obtaining evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions are being undercut by rapid changes in technology. As a result of the growth of cloud computing and new and sophisticated data storage methods, longstanding legal and policy regimes, designed in an analog world where information was almost exclusively stored locally, are today becoming in many ways obsolete.   

In the “content and jurisdiction” workstream, similarly, we’re witnessing how the mass proliferation of digital content, made available on a global scale by the Internet, is leading to legal, cultural, and - in certain respects -  ideological conflicts. These are conflicts that are putting immense pressure not only on governments, who must uphold their domestic laws, but also on the platforms hosting the content, as they are forced to reconcile regularly competing legal demands of multiple jurisdictions simultaneously.  

And in the “domains and jurisdiction” discussion, lastly, we’re seeing how the underlying infrastructure of the Internet is being tested by abuses of, and on, the Domain Name System, and the inherent ambiguity of what is an appropriate response to potentially abusive behavior.  

These three workstreams represent some of the most challenging legal and policy questions of the digital age.  The question is how we respond, as governments, as industry, as civil society, and as a global community, to these challenges.

In some countries, governments are responding with restrictive and isolationist policies. These include censorship, blocking, demanding a “right to be forgotten,” and requiring localized data storage. These policies seek to maintain the perception that our borderless, open Internet can be managed, bounded, and conformed to fit with local laws.

These actions are understandable, but regrettable. We understand that governments are trying to respond to very real challenges and concerns that their citizens have. They want to both protect and project their sovereignty.

But global companies end up getting caught in the middle of these conflicting policies, and as they work to address competing and inconsistent legal demands, the inevitable result is that users suffer diminished access and benefits from the network.

I’m optimistic that governments will ultimately realize that it is in everyone’s interest to keep the Internet open and keep the data flowing around the world. The key will be whether civil society, industry, and forward-looking voices in government are able to effectively highlight the benefits of a global Internet, to persuade those on the other side of the debate that the challenges of the free flow of data are far outweighed by the benefits.

That is why the work of Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network is so important. Being here is my first exposure to this initiative, but it’s already clear that the I&J has few peers in terms of bringing together the kinds of diverse stakeholders needed to examine the range of jurisdictional challenges facing the Internet today.

From questions of law enforcement access to data, to debates over the roles of intermediaries in responding to prohibited content, the I&J is helping the international community develop a common framework for understanding the problem and the moving towards solutions.

I join with my colleague from Canada in thanking Germany for its decision to host the I&J conference in 2018, and I look forward to continuing the productive relationship between NTIA and the I&J as we look forward to Berlin in 2018. 

As we look towards 2018, I hope that the intercessional work will continue to focus on producing and delivering solutions that can be adopted in Berlin. I am pleased to hear that the Secretariat stands ready to support these efforts and know that the experts in the three workstreams are up to the task.

Thank you for your time, and for your hard work on these extraordinarily complex issues.