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U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Kornbluh's Remarks on Internet Freedom, October 2011

Speaker: Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow for Digital Policy
Published October 19, 2011

On October 19, 2011, U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh delivered a speech titled, "Working Together to Promote Our Common Values and Interests on the Internet," at the French Senate. The conference, Freedom Under the Reign of the Internet, was hosted by the Robert Schuman Foundation and the Centre for European Studies.

Excerpt from the speech:

First, it's essential for us to solve this problem in a way that preserves the openness of the Internet. If we don't, we run the risk of denying ourselves and the world a powerful tool for innovation and expression. And this has been discussed, but I'll just give you some data that McKinsey released when they were here in France for the eG-8. They say that the Internet has generated as much growth over the past 15 years as the industrial revolution generated in 50 years. The Internet has been responsible for 21 percent of the growth in mature economies over the past 5 years and it has created 2.6 jobs for every one job it has displaced.

And that's just on the economic side. Obviously the Internet also gives us a platform for learning, debate, and social change. Its power to generate innovation is rivaled only by its potential to help people realize their rights and democratic aspirations. The Internet is so powerful in part because no centralized authority governs it and no nation owns it. You don't need permission to share ideas or associate with others around the globe. Instead, a decentralized system of public and private actors collaborates to ensure its function and expansion. What this means is that nations that choose to take a heavy-handed approach to regulating the Internet can reduce its value for every other nation and user.

The second point I'd like to make is that, although very often our countries focus on the differences in how we honor the values that we're discussing today, I would like to argue that it is essential that we democracies that share these values find common norms for how we're going to approach these, because the openness of the Internet is so important. Iran's recent announcement, that it plans to disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world, was a recent dramatic sign that the Internet is really at risk, if we look beyond our democracies, of being carved up into national mini Internets, each with its own rules and restrictions. Iran, Syria, and other countries that we might call "cyber autocracies", deny their citizens their right to express themselves, seek and receive information, and freely associate.

And then around the world people are coming online for the first time and their governments are very cautious about this new force and the multi-stakeholder, open approach. They too may look for a heavy-handed solution if we don't agree on some norms and start to talk to them about the fact that yes, we can have respect for all of these values online. We have a responsibility to work together on this and to show them that together we can imagine a future for the Internet that respects the principles that are the foundations for a free, open, and secure society online. We've honored these time-tested principles in our societies off-line even if our ways of implementation may differ. And now if we work together, open and transparently, to show the world that we will uphold them just as successfully online as well.

Third point: it is for this reason that the United States is committing to building a global consensus around the benefits of an open, interconnected Internet. This May president Obama issued the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace. Secretary Clinton has a groundbreaking Internet freedom agenda, and she has called for the global community to join us in the bet we have made, a bet that an open Internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries. And again, I just want to stress that when Secretary Clinton talks about this, when she says an open Internet, she's not saying that we should have different values on the Internet than we have offline, but that we have to find a way to take these values that we have offline and respect them online.

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