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Global Internet Freedom Task Force Strategy

Global Internet Freedom Task Force Strategy Announcement

Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Washington, DC
December 20, 2006

The Internet is arguably the greatest facilitator for freedom of expression and innovation in the world today. The United States recognizes the importance freedom of expression and ideas and the free flow of information on the Internet to economic development and its influence in facilitating greater social and political debate. We also recognize that numerous governments around the world unduly restrict freedom of expression on the Internet despite their international commitments to freedom of expression, such as those made at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and as found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The United States is committed to maximizing freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international legal instruments, as well as decades of U.S. support for freedom of expression around the world. We refer to such freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas on the Internet as & ldquo;Internet Freedom.”

Increased access to the Internet allows citizens to express ideas and opinions more freely, encourages the expansion of democracy and accountable government, lowers the cost of doing business, creates new jobs, and expands the provision of education, health, and government services. In order for countries to realize the full potential of the Internet and related information technologies, they must maximize Internet freedom. Maximizing freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet can create opportunities and competition. Unfettered access means a level playing field for businesses that operate and advertise on the Internet. Censorship by some countries creates an unfair environment for online business and stifles competition.

As Paula mentioned, our strategy is a robust three-pronged approach. It includes: (1) increasing our monitoring of challenges to Internet Freedom in countries around the World; (2) responding more vigorously to challenges to Internet Freedom through diplomatic channels, both bilaterally and multilaterally, and (3) advancing Internet Freedom using diplomatic and commercial policy tools.

As U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, I lead the U.S. government’s international efforts on telecommunications and information technology (IT) policy. Over the course of the last several years, I have spoken extensively both one-on-one to representatives of foreign governments as well as in multilateral settings (such as international conferences) to underscore the importance of freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet. In addition to promoting the benefits of Internet freedom with individual countries, we have approached like-minded countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, India, and the European Union to enlist their support and engagement in this effort.

A commitment to the free flow of information and freedom of expression on the Internet is not just the view of a few like-minded countries. More than 170 governments endorsed the 2005 Tunis Commitment of the United Nation’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which “recognize[d] that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge are essential for the Information Society and beneficial to development.”

Mindful of the Internet’s key role as a means for personal expression, the United States led the effort at the Summit, in close coordination with like-minded countries, to ensure that the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were reflected in the Tunis Commitment.

Most recently I participated in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens, Greece and the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey. At those gatherings, we reiterated the Administration& rsquo;s position that the Internet should remain as unencumbered by regulation as feasible and promoted our concept of Internet Freedom.

As a government, the United States has also put resources behind the cause of Internet Freedom. Through multiple U.S. government programs (including USAID projects and the Telecommunications Leadership Program) and public-private partnerships (The Digital Freedom Initiative), the United States Government promotes expanded Internet access and the availability of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing countries. Since 2004, the U.S. government has spent over $250 million on projects that include the design of websites and databases, training on ICTs, and the provision of computer hardware in developing countries. Our assistance also helps create an enabling policy and regulatory environment that attracts investment and encourages private sector innovation to fully harness the potential of ICTs.

As we move forward, we will continue to work with stakeholders – including NGOs and Industry – to maximize our efforts to promote Internet Freedom. Our first event of the New Year will be a conference featuring NGOs and Industry that we are proposing for late January 2007 here at the State Department. Such a conference will offer an opportunity for us to share experiences and to continue to develop strategies to promote Internet Freedom and to confront challenges to the free flow of information and freedom of expression on the Internet.

I want to thank you for your interest in this important subject and for attending our event today. Jeff Krilla and I look forward to an opportunity to discuss this important subject with you informally over some refreshments. Released on December 21, 2006


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