Thank you – Minister Joly… Melanie – for Canada’s leadership as the chair of the Freedom Online Coalition, and for the bold agenda you set out for all of us over the past year.
We find ourselves at a defining moment for the future of the Internet.
Since its creation, we have witnessed both the extraordinary promise and peril of digital technologies.
We’ve seen the power of the Internet to expand our citizens’ access to knowledge and economic opportunities… to facilitate broader and faster communication within and across societies… to expose corruption and human rights violations.
Yet, at the same time, we’ve increasingly seen how governments can misuse technology to unlawfully surveil citizens and others they view as a threat… stifle dissent… carry out malicious cyber activity… and spread misinformation and disinformation.
Indeed, the more that digital technologies have advanced, the more their capacity grows to be used both for good and for ill.
That’s why the Freedom Online Coalition’s mission to advance our shared vision of an Internet that’s open, interoperable, secure, and reliable has never been more important.
It’s why, at the first Summit for Democracy in December 2021, President Biden committed to redouble the United States’ efforts to seize the opportunities and address the challenges of digital technologies by strengthening and growing this Coalition.
And it’s why, in April 2022, we came together with more than 60 countries to launch the Declaration for the Future of the Internet – a set of principles that commits us to protect human rights online, and refrain from misusing the Internet, algorithms, or other digital tools for unlawful surveillance and repression, among other commitments.
As the United States assumes the chair of this group for the first time since its creation in 2011, we’re focused on making the Coalition even more effective in advancing the promise of the Internet, and mitigating its perils.
Here’s how we’ll do that.
We’ll do more in the areas where the Coalition is uniquely positioned to move the needle.
For example, last October, the Coalition condemned the Iranian regime for repeatedly shutting down the Internet – the first time in the group’s history that we’ve publicly issued a consensus statement condemning a government for restricting Internet freedom.
When 35 governments speak in a single voice, others take notice.
We will encourage members to more proactively use their foreign policy and foreign assistance to advance our shared goals.
Countries around the globe are developing technology frameworks, rules, and norms to govern digital technologies within their borders.
Coalition members’ support, aid, and critical feedback can make a profound difference in the choices governments around the world make.
We will deepen our work with partners in civil society and the private sector who share our values.
We’ll develop concrete ways to translate the principles and policies agreed on by the Coalition into coordinated actions by our members’ diplomats around the globe, including in multilateral fora.
These efforts to strengthen the Coalition are vital to making progress on several priority issues.
First, we’ll stay focused on the Coalition’s core mission of protecting fundamental freedoms, including through working with like-minded governments, civil society groups, tech companies, and citizens to counter disruptions to Internet access.
Second, we’ll stand up to – and build resilience against – the misuse of digital technologies and digital repression.
For example, our governments can take steps to put in place guardrails that protect human rights when governments use surveillance technologies.
Third, we’ll work to shape the norms and rules around emerging technologies, such as the responsible development and use of artificial intelligence, and enforce those that already exist.
Fourth, we will continue to strengthen digital inclusion and promote safe online spaces, particularly for women and girls; LGBTQI+ people; ethnic, racial, and religious minorities; people with disabilities; and other marginalized groups.
Across these priorities, we will act with urgency and purpose, because if we don’t shape the future of the Internet in a way that aligns with our values, autocratic countries will.
Indeed, they already are… with increasing sophistication.
But there’s reason for hope.
In 2022, Internet freedom improved in 26 of the 70 countries surveyed in Freedom House’s annual report on the topic – the biggest move in the right direction in nearly a dozen years.
That included in Ecuador, where Internet access and speeds increased, and the executive halted legislation that would have allowed penalties for online speech.
And in The Gambia, where the government passed freedom of information legislation with input from the Gambian Press Union and civil society, affirming the right of every Gambian citizen to access public information.
Together, we must learn from these gains, and build on them.
And as chair of this Coalition, the United States will work with you all toward that essential goal.