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U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Kornbluh's Remarks on Foreign Policy for the Internet, January 2012

Speaker: Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow for Digital Policy
Published January 11, 2012

U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh spoke at the Brookings Institute on January 11, 2012. In her speech titled, "Principles of Internet Governance: An Agenda for Economic Growth and Innovation," she discussed the OECD's high-level meetings in June 2011 and the resulting principles countries can adopt to protect the flow of information and uphold policy concerns on the Internet.

Excerpts from the speech:

When we think back to the printing press we recall that whether it was the spread of the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and eventually democracy, so much of that wouldn't have been possible without the printing press that allowed individuals to get access to information.

The Internet too is an amazing technology for getting information into the hands of individuals.

It has already had a huge impact in terms of jobs and economic growth. In fact, in the first 15 years of the Internet's growth, it's had more of a job impact than in the first 50 years of the Industrial Revolution.

It's a prime job producer and growth producer in the developed world. It produces far more jobs than it displaces. It's also, as you know from the Arab Spring and other examples, a tool for democratic aspirations, and that's why Secretary Clinton has talked about freedom to connect, the Internet freedom agenda, because of the importance of the Internet as a place where people can assemble, can learn, can express ideas.

And there are countries like Iran that would like to put that genie back in the bottle, would like to wall off, for example, Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world. But the Internet's power lies in the fact that it's this global platform, that it's end-to-end communication across the globe, it's a single platform.

And so if individual countries decide that it's in their interest to regulate their piece of it and to cut their piece of it, you wind up, as Darrell said, with a lot of mini Internets, and you hurt the innovation potential, the job potential, the growth potential, and, of course, the democratic potential of the Internet.

The key thing about the Internet's growth so far -- and this is, I think, what Larry Strickling is going to be talking about -- is that as it's developed, there hasn't been a need to get permission, no central authority to share ideas. Instead, there's been a decentralized system of public and private actors collaborating to ensure how it functions and how it expands. But this means, as I said, that if there's a heavy-handed approach that's taken to regulate it, it reduces the value for everyone.

And so what the administration came to see is that collective action is needed to protect the Internet. A foreign policy that accounts for the Internet has become absolutely essential. And that's why the President issued the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace, which is an agenda for safeguarding the single Internet. And, as I said, Secretary Clinton developed her groundbreaking Internet freedom agenda.

These were designed around the idea that we need to work together with other countries to protect this international, global treasure.

And it's also why the U.S. was supportive of the idea that the OECD have a high-level meeting in June. When the U.S. started to look at why we would use the OECD, a key reason was that it involved stakeholder organizations, an Internet and Technology Advisory Council, a Business and Industry Advisory Council and Civil Society Advisory Council. Plus it played a key role in the history of the Internet. It adopted the international e-commerce guidelines. It's got the international privacy guidelines. It does the broadband rankings. So this also led credibility to these principles. This is an organization that's played a role in the shaping of a consensus about how you approach the Internet.

And then it is a place dedicated to economic growth. So it was another statement that not only is this kind of approach important for human rights, important for democracy, but it's also important for economic growth.

At the high-level meeting 40 countries and representatives of industry, civil society and the technical community, including some of the founders of the Internet, met. There was a lot of debate, discussion, negotiation. The principles were agreed by 35 countries, the Business Advisory Council and the Technical Advisory Council. These are high-level principles, that are not a step-by-step prescription, but are supposed to guide our thinking about how you can both preserve the free flow of information, and at the same time protect some of these policy concerns that every nation has for protecting intellectual property, for protecting privacy, children, consumers, that you don't have to impinge on the openness and the Internet to address these kinds of things.

Highlights of the principles:

  • Promote and protect the global free flow of information
  • Promote the open, distributed, and interconnected nature of the Internet
  • Co-operate in multi-stakeholder policy development processes
  • Ensure transparency, fair process and accountability
  • Promote creativity and innovation, in which we discussed intellectual property
  • And limit Internet intermediary liability

There are important repercussions of the fact that these principles were adopted, are twofold. One is that it said that this is what it means to be an open, democratic, developed country. If you want to get on the growth train, if you want to get on the democratic train, this is what you should subscribe to, this kind of high-level principle that says you can use a multi-stakeholder process, be transparent and still protect values.

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