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David A. Gross On Openness And The Internet

Ambassador David A. Gross
U.S Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
Internet Governance Forum
Windsor Barra Hotel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
November 14, 2007

Openness and the Internet

Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be here with both old and new friends. And I appreciate greatly the opportunity to appear on this panel. I think all of the panels that we have over the conference are extraordinarily important, and were obviously chosen with great care. But I would say that this panel, by the nature of the topic, is at least the one closest to my heart, because it really encompasses all of the other issues within it.

The issue of openness, particularly with regard to the Internet, is really meaningless without access to the Internet, and so the access panel was important. All of the other panels, it seems to me, feed in very nicely into the issues that we will be discussing this morning and early this afternoon. I will keep my comments brief, because I think one of the things we really want to do is encourage questions both from the audience here and also from our virtual audience, who may be listening in as well. And I encourage good and tough questions to all of us. As we look at the issue of openness, obviously, as the introductory comments suggest, there are many different dimensions to it. Let me focus on two of those dimensions.

First, when I see the term "openness" with regard to the Internet, I immediately think of the importance of the free flow of information. The issue of the free flow of information was one that we spent a lot of time discussing, analyzing, and negotiating about with regard to both phases of the World Summit. I would commend to everyone, of course, as we deal with all of these issues the important decisions that were reached by the World Summit and were endorsed unanimously by all the governments of the world at the highest political level. And so when I think about openness, I immediately -- as I hope many of you do -- think of paragraph 4 of the Tunis Commitment, which says that we, the world, recognize that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge are essential for the information society and beneficial to development. It encapsulates in one sentence what I think it is all about.

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Then, similarly, the same basic point is made in the Agenda for the Information Society that was also unanimously agreed to at Tunis by all the world's governments and in a multi-stakeholder environment, in which we reaffirmed our commitment to the freedom to seek, receive, impart, and use information, in particular, for the creation, accumulation, and dissemination of knowledge. That is for us, the beginning, and in some respects, even the end, of the discussion about the importance of the free flow of information. It was agreed by all that the free flow of information is at the core of what the Internet and what the world that we hope to create is all about. So when we talk about free flow of information, we believe in its great importance. We believe, of course, that how that is implemented in each country should be determined in a democratic fashion by the country so that it reflects culture, norms, history, and the like for each country, but with an eye towards that important end goal of encouraging the free flow of information.

And then, similarly as was mentioned, open access, as that term is broadly construed, is extraordinarily important and has many dimensions to it. That, too, was dealt with in a great degree at the World Summit. I commend to everyone looking, as they try to think through these issues, at paragraph 46 of the agenda for the Information Society, which deals with the issue of privacy and access to information. Paragraph 49, which deals with openness with regard to software, including issues about Open Source, proprietary, and free software.

And often overlooked, but I think extraordinarily important, is paragraph 90, which among other things in subparagraph (k), refers to libraries and the importance of access to information so that people around the world have access to the world's information. Because that, in essence, is one of the things that makes the Internet profoundly different and makes our time profoundly different than any other time in human history, the ability for everyone, when they have access to the Internet, to have access to the world's knowledge. Through that access to the world's knowledge, people can find the path forward to economic development, social improvement, and, ultimately, of course, to political freedom. Thank you very much.

Released on November 27, 2007


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