THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started. Hello, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s briefing on the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, announced by the White House earlier today. My name is Wes Robertson and I am the moderator for today’s briefing. Our briefers today are Special Assistant Tim Wu and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Ruth Berry.
Tim Wu was appointed special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy by the White House in March of 2021. Before this role, Mr. Wu was professor at Columbia Law School and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. He is best known for his works on net neutrality theory. He is the author of the books The Master Switch and The Attention Merchants, along with Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination, and other works. In 2013 he was named one of America’s 100 most influential lawyers, and in 2017 he was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Ruth Berry is the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for international information and communication policy at the newly established Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy. Before this role, Ms. Berry was the director for international digital technology policy at the National Security Council. Ms. Berry’s previous roles in the Department of State include director for bilateral affairs for the international communications and information policy, senior Syrian assistance coordinator for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and as country coordinator in the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources.
And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript and video of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. Please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and the media outlet you represent. Special Assistant Wu will now give opening remarks, followed potentially by acting DAS Barry. We will then open it up for questions. Over to you, sir.
MR WU: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everyone. It goes without saying that the internet has enabled extraordinary benefits for the world and for our country, yet it has also created new policy challenges both domestically and internationally. On the international front, we have seen a trend of rising digital authoritarianism where some states have acted to repress freedom of expression, censor independent news, interfere with elections, promote disinformation around the world, and deny their citizens other human rights.
In response to these alarming trends, the United States today launched the Declaration for the Future of the Internet jointly with more than 60 partners from around the world. I want to note that this effort takes into account and is complementary with existing processes in the United Nations, the G7, the G20, the OECD, the WTO, ICANN, the Freedom Online Coalition, and other relevant multilateral and multistakeholder fora. Our goal and what we will do is use this declaration and the principles to fortify existing institutions.
The declaration affirms fundamental principles regarding how countries should comport themselves with respect to the internet and digital space. It commits governments to promoting an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet for the world. I want to note that the USA – the DFI has not been a U.S. effort to which others are joining, but a truly joint effort with allies and partners. Over the last year, the United States has worked intensively with partners from all over the world, civil society, industry, and academia, and other stakeholders to reverse the current trajectory, including the development of the declaration. The United States and partners endorsing this declaration are going to work together and implement the principles and promote this vision around the world, while respecting each other’s regulatory autonomy within our own jurisdictions and in accordance with our respective domestic laws and international legal obligations.
I want to note that this is not – that the launch of the declaration is the beginning and not the end, and the declaration will remain open after the launch to partners who are willing to endorse its vision and uphold its principles, and they may continue to join. We look forward to working with governments and other partners, the private sector, international organizations, the technical community, academia, and civil society, and other relevant stakeholders worldwide to achieve this vision.
Now, I’ll turn to Ruth Berry if she’d like to make any comments, or otherwise we’ll take questions.
MS BERRY: Thank you, Tim. I think you covered it well, and happy to open it up to questions.
MODERATOR: All right, if you have questions, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand. We will call on you and you can unmute yourself and ask your question. You can also submit questions in the chat box. If you have not already done so, please take the time now to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.
We did have one question that was submitted in advance, and I’ll go ahead and read that off to get us started. This is from Hye Jun Seo from Radio Free Asia. The question is: “North Korea is one of the countries, along with Russia and China, that is suppressing its people with their freedom. Does the declaration express concern about North Korea’s limited internet access and blockage of the free flow of information? What is the United States comment on North Korea’s violations of freedom of information to its people?”
MR WU: Ruth, do you want to go ahead?
MS BERRY: Sure. The declaration is country-agnostic, and the principles contained therein stand on their – I think speak for themselves about the importance of governments and other authorities committing to conduct that respects human rights online and promotes an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure global internet, including support for freedom of expression and allowing legitimate content online.
I think the number of countries that have endorsed this vision are all – countries and partners that have endorsed this vision have all committed to upholding these principles, but these are principles that we see as universal and would look to all countries to seek to uphold.
MR WU: I’ll add one comment to that as well since the questioner raised it. We, with this declaration, want to promote an affirmative, positive vision for the future of the internet. But it is also in response, as I said in the introduction, to what we are concerned about, which is a rising tide of digital authoritarianism. Now, this declaration obviously does not name individual countries and it’s not targeted to anyone in particular, but we do – it does express principles that we do believe are the norms for the internet and how countries should comport themselves. And it does express great concerns with censorship of news outlets, with unlawful surveillance and other conduct which we think nation-states and other entities should not be involved in. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I see we have a hand raised from Ricardo Leopoldo from Agencia Estado, if you’d like to go ahead and unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you for the invitation. Well, I would like to understand the position of the U.S. Government about internet in the future in light of the crypto assets, because right now we see a huge proliferation of crypto assets, and even the U.S. Government announced an executive order that’s going to take some evaluation about the situation for the next five months or so. But we still have this kind of situation that the regulatory framework is still not working in a broader sense. Meanwhile, the growth of crypto assets is exponential, and that’s also happened by internet. So how can you think about this declaration of internet, the – for the future in light of the – this kind of situation that – we have the regulation versus crypto assets. What would work? Thank you.
MR WU: Yeah, thanks. I appreciate the question. I think it’s obviously an important topic. Crypto assets aren’t one of the topics covered by the declaration, this particular declaration, which his mainly about the protection of human rights online and similar individual rights, not about the regulation of digital or other assets.
I think the only thing perhaps of relevance is that the declaration does say – commit ourselves to respecting each other’s regulatory autonomy within our own jurisdictions. But don’t think – it isn’t – it doesn’t – relevant to the principles we’ve declared. In other words, this isn’t the declaration that is relevant to the questions of digital assets going forward. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: I don’t see additional questions raised at this point. Did either of you have any closing remarks or points you would like to make before we wrap things up?
MR WU: No, I think we’re good. I encourage the people on the call to refer to the declaration itself, which is now available on the State Department and White House websites. And as we said before, we – this represents, as I’ll say, the democracies and likeminded countries of the world coming together to promote our vision in an age where we think it could not be more important. The time is now. We are in an active period where the world is reconsidering what the future should be with respect to the internet, and this is – these are the fundamental principles that matter and that – which nation-states and other partners should adhere.
So thank you very much for your time, and we’ll see you in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I think —
MR WU: Ruth wants to say something.
MODERATOR: Yes, there was another comment from acting DAS.
MS BERRY: Sure – I just want to underscore that the launch of this declaration really is the beginning of this continuing conversation, and the invitation remains open to all countries who share in this vision and are willing to commit to and endorse these principles to join. And so we hope to see the number of countries and partners grow over the coming months as we work together to implement this vision both at home and internationally, and think about how these principles can help reinforce and buttress the work in other multilateral and multistakeholder institutions. So we really see this as an ongoing effort and welcome the participation of additional partners.
MODERATOR: Okay, so this concludes our briefing. I want to give a special thanks to Special Assistant Wu and Acting DAS Berry for sharing their time with us today, and to those of you who have participated. Thank you and good day.