Agreement Reached on Internet Policymaking Principles

This week, at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) High Level Meeting on the Internet Economy, we joined Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf, along with representatives from business, civil society, and Internet technical communities from 34 countries to discuss how to preserve the openness of the Internet. Also present were policymakers who, over a decade ago, helped establish the Internet policy framework—elegant in its restraint—that enabled the open Internet to flourish with innovation and human connections beyond our wildest expectations.

After intensive conversations, the OECD issued a communique of fundamental principles , highlighting commitments to:

  • Promote and protect the global free flow of information
  • Promote the open, distributed, and interconnected nature of the Internet
  • Co-operate in multi-stakeholder policy development processes
  • Ensure transparency, fair process, and accountability
  • Strengthen consistency and effectiveness in privacy protection
  • Maximize individual empowerment
  • Promote creativity and innovation
  • Limit Internet intermediary liability

Illustrated by the release of the President's International Strategy for Cyberspace in May, Internet openness is an Obama Administration priority. As the President told a group of students in China, “I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet—or unrestricted Internet access—is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged …. the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes…." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched an Internet Freedom agenda and in February challenged other countries to “join us in the bet we have made... that an open Internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries.”

In sharp contrast, last month Iran announced plans to disconnect Iranian Internet services from the rest of the world. There are calls for greater governmental and inter-governmental, top-down, one-size-fits-all control over the Internet. If these trends continue, they risk balkanizing the Internet—with high costs in both economic opportunity and the realization of human rights. According to McKinsey, the Internet has generated as much growth over the past 15 years as the Industrial Revolution generated in 50 years. In the past five years, the Internet has been responsible for 21% of the growth in mature economies and has created 2.6 jobs for every 1 job it has displaced.

But the Internet is not just a generator of today’s jobs; it is the biggest innovation incubator in the world, with a global reach never before achieved in human history.

That’s why these principles should be embraced by governments and other stakeholders. They were developed through an extensive, transparent, multi-stakeholder process. Although there was broad support from the government, technical, and business communities, the civil society groups participating in the process were not able to support the final text due primarily to concerns about specific provisions on online copyright questions.  We will continue to seek common ground with them on how these principles are interpreted and implemented.

In another fifteen years, those of us who gathered together at the OECD will look back and be proud of what we did—just as those who set the original framework for the Internet are justifiably proud.

Danny Weitzner is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy

Karen Kornbluh is US Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

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