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Buenos días a todas y todos! On behalf of the United States Government and as the Chair of the Freedom Online Coalition or F-O-C, I want to thank Access Now for the invitation to hold this important discussion and Ambassador Jaarsma and our other distinguished panelists for joining us today.  Greetings to those in person and joining online.

One year ago, Secretary of State Blinken appeared on the virtual stage of RightsCon with renowned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Maria Ressa to discuss the intersection of digital technology and U.S. foreign policy.  The Secretary called on fellow democracies, the private sector, and our civil society partners to “make sure, to the best of our ability, that technology is used … to advance a more open, more free, more democratic world.  And that it’s not misused and abused to undermine those basic principles.”  Secretary Blinken implored us all to work with a sense of urgency and vigilance.

It is because of this sense of urgency that I am here with you all today.  For over a decade since its founding in 2011, the Freedom Online Coalition has worked to promote an affirmative vision for the use of the Internet and digital technologies globally in line with our democratic values. So what do we stand for?  An Internet that is open, interoperable, secure, and reliable governed by a multistakeholder model, where anyone, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or any other factor can realize its benefits without fear for their safety and security.

We remain clear-eyed about the threats to this vision.  Year after year and at this very convening, we have heard human rights defenders, journalists, women leaders, and many others call for action against a daily and growing threat to all of our lives:  the proliferation and misuse of surveillance technology.

On the positive side, we see surveillance technologies helping to protect national security and public safety around the globe.  When used responsibly and in a manner consistent with international law, these technologies can help law enforcement use limited resources to combat corruption, counter transnational crime, and protect the populations they serve.

However, governments are increasingly deploying an arsenal of different forms of surveillance technologies for domestic and transnational repression, decreasing online civic space, trampling privacy, and arbitrarily tracking activists, journalists, and perceived critics.  In the most egregious cases, misuse of these tools contributes to increased inequality, physical abuse, arbitrary detentions, gender-based violence, disappearances, or even deaths.

Of the many forms of surveillance technology, the growing misuse of commercial spyware is of particular concern to the Biden-Harris Administration.  This opaque and largely unregulated industry gives governments access to previously inaccessible and highly intrusive capabilities to surveil the activities of both those in power and those who speak truth to power.  Civil society reports estimate over 70 governments have access to spyware or digital forensics technologies, many of which do not even need victims to click a link.

So what are we doing in response?  We are not sitting idly by admiring the problem; we are acting with urgency by mobilizing the FOC and others to push back.  This multilateral coalition and its multistakeholder Advisory Network are working to shape global norms of responsible behavior through coordinated action.  Allow me to highlight three ways we in the United States are helping this effort, in our role as FOC Chair and beyond:

First, we are leveraging the FOC to advance a common vision around how governments should and should not use surveillance technology.  This year, we developed a set of Guiding Principles on Government Use of Surveillance Technologies, which highlight guardrails governments should adopt to align use of these tools with democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms.  37 FOC governments endorsed these principles and were subsequently joined by 11 more at this year’s Summit for Democracy.  We call on participating governments here today to support these principles as well.

Meanwhile, we are already taking steps to turn these principles into action.  Some FOC members have joined us in a Joint Statement to Counter the Proliferation and Misuse of Commercial Spyware, pledging to work together to ensure use of these tools respects human rights, to prevent access for actors who misuse them, and to partner with industry and civil society to inform our approach.  We urge other interested governments to join us in this team effort.

Second, we are modernizing our foreign policy and foreign assistance toolkit to combat misuse of technology for anti-democratic ends.  We are leveraging tools like export controls to prevent surveillance and other technologies from getting into the hands of malign actors.  For example, we have launched a new code of conduct with 25 countries, many of whom are members of the FOC, to take human rights into account when reviewing potential exports.

In addition, our colleagues at USAID are working in the FOC to draft a set of Donor Principles for the Digital Age, which will help to unite donors around responsible, rights-respecting use of these and other technologies.  This will help ensure that donor-supported international development programs on digital issues – from health to governance to financial services – do not inadvertently undermine democratic values and human rights.

Third, we are leading by example here at home with a whole-of-government approach to counter misuse of these tools and to build a digital future that respects human rights and democracy.  In March, President Biden issued an Executive Order to prohibit the U.S. government’s own use of commercial spyware that poses a threat to national security and human rights.  This complements bipartisan legislation by the U.S. Congress aimed at stemming the proliferation and misuse of these sophisticated tools.  We encourage other governments to consider taking similar action within their own regulatory frameworks.

Seventy-five years ago, in the wake of what President Biden has called one of the “darkest chapters in human history,” the members of the United Nations gathered to lay out a declaration establishing the universal human rights we continue to uphold to this day.  As technologies continue to rapidly evolve, we see the tremendous potential they offer to advance these human rights, enhance quality of life, and promote civic participation.

Our task is to work with urgency and resolve to harness this progress and firmly push back against the forces working to undermine these universal human rights through the misuse of technology.

We cannot do this alone. The members of the FOC are at the forefront of efforts to protect human rights online and drive global norms in this space but we also need our partners in civil society and in industry standing alongside us.

That is why today’s discussion is so critical, and I thank you all for joining us.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future