Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Declaration for the Future of the Internet
(April 27, 2022)
4:06 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining. So, this call is going to be on background, attributable to “senior administration officials.” The contents of this call are embargoed until tomorrow, Thursday, April 28th, 7:00 a.m. Eastern.
You all should have gotten the Declaration under embargo in your inboxes. If you didn’t, please email me. And there’s a factsheet that is also coming your way soon.
So, with that, I’m going to — and — sorry, and just for your awareness but not for your reporting, the speakers on this call are [senior administration official] and then [senior administration official].
So, I’m going to start with [senior administration official] to kick us off with some remarks. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. And thank you for joining the call.
It goes without saying that the Internet has enabled extraordinary benefits for the country and also the world, but it has also created new policy challenges, both domestically and internationally.
On the international front — what we’re talking about today — we have seen a trend of rising digital authoritarianism, where some states have been acting to repress freedom of expression, to censor independent news sources, to interfere with elections, promote disinformation around the world, and deny their citizens other human rights.
The last two months have provided an extreme example of such behavior in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has aggressively promoted disinformation at home and abroad, censored Internet news sources, blocked or shut down legitimate sites, and gone so far as to physically attack the Internet infrastructure in Ukraine.
Russia, however, is hardly alone but just one of the leaders in a dangerous new model of Internet policy along with the People’s Republic of China and some of the other most censorial states in the world.
In response to these alarming trends, the United States is launching the Declaration for the Future of the Internet — otherwise known as the “DFI” — jointly with more than 50 partners, 50 other states from around the world, including — on the morning of April 28th, 2022. And U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will be hosting the launch with endorsing partners.
In fact, I think I can say more. We have more than 55 partner countries from around the world.
I will note that this effort takes into account and is complementary to existing processes in the United Nations, the G7, the G20, the OECD, WTO, ICANN, the Freedom Online Coalition, and other relevant multilateral and multi-stakeholder fora. We will use this Declaration and the principles to fortify existing institutions.
Now I’m going to turn it over to [senior administration official] to talk more about the Declaration itself.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Thanks, [senior administration official]. And thanks to all of you for joining this afternoon. We are tremendously excited about the launch tomorrow of the DFI, which represents, obviously, something a number of us have been working on across the administration, joined by dozens of countries around the world — as [senior administration official] says, more than 55 at this point — for quite some time. And just really excited to get it — get it out there.
You know, as [moderator] said, and as I hope you all have in your inboxes — you have the Declaration text itself, so I’m going to keep my summary brief.
But, basically, the Declaration affirms fundamental principles regarding how countries should comport themselves with respect to the Internet and to the digital ecosystem, the digital economy. It commits governments to promoting an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet for the world.
This includes defending the Internet — an Internet that is governed through a multi-stakeholder approach that works with and through existing institutions and processes; an Internet that fosters the protection and promotion of basic human rights online; and an Internet that advances these goals across relevant economic policies and regulatory activities.
I want to point out the significance of the timing of the Declaration. What you’re seeing with the launch of the DFI is democratic governments and other like-minded partners from around the world rising to the challenge at this critical moment in history.
Over the last year, the U.S. has worked extensively and intensively with partners from all over the world — with civil society, with industry, with academics, and other stakeholders — to try to reverse the current trajectory of the Internet, including through the development of this Declaration.
The DFI has not been a “U.S. effort” to which others are joining, but a truly joint effort with America’s allies and partners. The U.S. and partners endorsing this Declaration will work together in the weeks, months, and years ahead to implement these principles and to promote this vision globally, while respecting each other’s regulatory autonomy within our own jurisdictions and in accordance with our respective domestic laws and international legal obligations.
The Declaration will also remain open after the launch to all partners who are willing to endorse its vision and uphold its principles. And so, we’re excited to have more than 55 countries join tomorrow. We’re also excited to see other counties come on — come on board as this goes forward.
Efforts like this take work and time, but we believe the DFI will advance a positive vision for digital technologies anchored by democratic values. We look forward to working with governments, the private sector, international organizations, the technical community, academia and civil society, and other relevant stakeholders worldwide to promote, foster, and achieve this shared vision.
[Moderator], let me turn it back over to you for a few questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Could we cue up the directions, please, to ask a question?
Q Hello. Thanks so much for this. Can you maybe address why you aren’t doing this through the U.N. framework at the OEWG, and if this is any kind of indictment of that process?
And I noticed India and New Zealand are not on the list. Have you asked them? And what is the significance of getting their buy-in?
And finally, can you talk a little bit about the risks you see of splinternet and whether this is about more disinformation or physical attacks on infrastructure? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want to start with those? Well, maybe I’ll start with one point, which — the good news is New Zealand has, in fact, joined the Declaration slightly (inaudible). And we — you know, the hope remains that time isn’t fully passed yet for India to join. But we’ve been engaged in — in very intensive efforts to have all of these — all of these countries join.
And we’ve been very — frankly, as [senior administration official] said, you know, we’re not at the end of this; the Declaration remains open. And, you know, for some people, it takes time (inaudible) think about it or, frankly, even just see who else has joined. And we remain confident that like-minded countries around the world will — will sign up.
[Senior administration official], I don’t know if you want to address anything else that was in the question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I just wanted to echo, [senior administration official], the points you made on membership. You know, it’s been growing by the day, which is terrific, and I think you’re going to continue to see it grow going forward.
You know, in terms of the splinternet issue — look, I think the reality is that what we’re seeing as we look out over the world is a, you know, trend by some countries, and particularly some of the authoritarian countries, to try to create a splinternet.
So, I mean, you look at what Russia is doing, some of the steps that China has been taking — and I think we actually see this as, in many ways, a response to these kind of splinternet tendencies by a number of the authoritarian countries around the world. Because what we’re really doing is taking a big-tent approach, laying out a broad — you know, and as I say, you know, more than 55 countries — broadly-shared vision of the future of the Internet. And we think that kind of galvanizing the world behind a shared vision is a very important part of pushing back on these splinternet tendencies.
And then, on a more technical level, I think you’ll see — see in the text of the Declaration, you know, one of the principles we are committing to — all the countries are committing to — is kind of a reaffirmation of, you know, the multistakeholder approach to governance of the Internet — the idea that, you know, going back to its creation decades ago, it has been governed by a multi-stakeholder approach. And, you know, we view this as an opportunity to kind of reaffirm a commitment to that at a time when not every country is on board.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, let me double-down on that. We’re not — we and our allies are not here to splinter the Internet but, frankly, to save it from splintering. You know, there has been a determined effort, as you said, to try and set up the two multiple Internets, each — each different. And we are — and our allies — reaffirming the vision of one Internet for the world.
The Internet was originally a network of networks designed to interconnect everyone, and we think there’s extraordinary value in that. And we’re here to try to restore that vision.
MODERATOR: Great. Next question, please.
Q Hey, everyone, thank you so much for your time. I want to dig in a little bit on — you said, you know, in the coming weeks, months, years, they’re going to be implementing these principles. And I’m wondering if you can — like, more specifically, what does that mean?
And part of the reason I ask is that I think we can look at how China has approached these questions. It has often been by really kind of pushing products to countries in terms of telecom equipment, undersea cables, like, that provide them sort of — sort of material support, if they bring their countries online and their infrastructure up to date.
And so, you know, principles are one thing, but how do you counter — how do you plan to counter sort of an on-the-ground offensive, that is often about sort of more material, in line with this document you’re going to put out tomorrow? Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I think this is a great question, David, and thanks for it. And I should — maybe we should have made clear off the — you know, right off — right off the top: Obviously, what we’re doing with the DFI tomorrow is one important part, but only one important part of a kind of comprehensive set of tools and policies we, as the United States, have to promote our vision of the Internet and of global digital connectivity.
You know — and, for example, you know, our State Department colleague who’s on — on with us, you know, works for a new bureau the State Department just set up a couple of weeks ago in order to — in order to help make the U.S. more effective, both at a diplomatic level but also, as you say, at pushing out, like, tangible, concrete things.
And I think we could give you a whole, you know, separate interview on all the things we are doing to promote Open RAN 5G technologies around the world to help, you know, get the DFC to try to finance trusted telecommunications networks in developing countries around the world, you know, in competition with Huawei and other Chinese providers.
Obviously, we’ve been doing a ton — both through DHS, CISA, also through various other mechanisms, modalities — to share cybersecurity, you know, operational information; how to have Shields Up posture, to provide that kind of practical assistance, as well.
And then, of course, we’ve been, through our State and AID colleagues, doing things to sort of tangibly promote the Internet freedom agenda, right? We’ve been, you know, providing, sort of, material support — you know, encryption technologies and things like that to NGOs around the world and in repressive societies.
And then you’ve seen us, kind of at a policy level — I think you will see us through the IPEF and the digital provisions of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and through the work we’re doing at TTC, kind of at a regulatory level, drive that agenda.
What we see here is a way to kind of, as we’re taking, you know, tangible steps in the assistance space, in the help the NGOs space, in the kind of global regulatory space — you know, this is a way of really re-energizing, at a principles-driven level, what the vision is that will then help build global support and drive all of these — drive further all of these kinds of individual, practical workstreams across the different areas of the vision that we’re pulling together and laying out tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Great. I think we can do the next question, please.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, I guess, what’s changed since December when you all were working on the Alliance for the Future of the Internet and, sort of, what lessons you all have learned and who you’ve talked to since then.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I’ll be happy to discuss that. You know, we’ve been using the time since December to — essentially in recruitment and working with other countries — to sort of improve things. And I think that has really paid off.
You know, I think that there’s now, as I said, more than 55 countries. You know, it takes time to sort of socialize an idea. Sometimes two steps is better than one.
And I think if you look carefully at the — I shouldn’t — I don’t think I want to encourage you to compare it with leaked versions — but I think that, you know, we talked to a lot of partners. We recognize the importance of civil society and stakeholders in this.
And, you know, some of the feedback that we got — as you’ve probably noticed, most obviously, the name has changed from “alliance” to “declaration.” So that’s one area which changed.
And we’ve envisioned things. You know, I think the underlying thinking is similar, but we envisioned this declaration as a useful tool for multiple other fora. And I made it just very clear, I think, that this works in harmony with and is a complement to existing fora.
So, you know, it’s a reaffirming and an updating of the visions that anchored and powered some of the original Internet freedom work in the — from — over the last 20 years or so.
But, yeah, I think that the delay has actually helped us quite a bit.
MODERATOR: Great. I think we can do our next question, please.
Q Hi, folks. I wonder if you might just briefly address what, if any, outreach you may have done on this initiative to Russia and China and what you may have heard back from them, if anything. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to be in a position to get into specific diplomatic conversations with specific countries.
What I would say is we’ve obviously — in addition to the countries that have joined and that might be joining, you know, if not tomorrow, in the coming weeks — we have — I guess I wouldn’t say — I don’t think this will come as a surprise to any countries, even countries that we always thought were unlikely to join this, but I’m not going to comment on specific diplomatic discussions.
MODERATOR: Great. I think we have time for one more, so let’s do our last question, please.
Q Hi, yeah, Ina with Axios. Thanks. Two things. One, some have called for something akin to a Geneva Convention governing what types of cyber warfare are and aren’t permissible. I’m guessing this is largely adjacent to that push, although there’s a little bit of discussion, I think, about protecting Internet infrastructure. But I want to make sure I have that correct.
And then also, I’m curious: What role, if any, do the big tech companies play in this? Were they — were you outreaching to them? Do you see them as not — this is really about nation states, not companies? So if you could clarify those two. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’ll take a stab. So, on the first: Yeah, this is not a — this is not about cyber warfare. I mean, I guess you’re right to say at the edge — you know, at the edge, there may be some overlap. We have principles related to cyber ransoms, electoral interference. Some people consider electoral interference to be the edge. So I think it’s compatible with some of the developing principles in cyber warfare, but it’s not a cyber warfare treaty or anything — or agreement.
But you know what this does have in common is this increasing sense that there needs to be almost constitutional principles for countries that “it shalt and shall not” — things that should be off limits. And, you know, some people call for that in cyber warfare.
But here we’re calling for it — or we’re agreeing on it, politically, more directly and in all kinds of areas, whether it’s unlawful surveillance of your citizens, whether it’s blocking legitimate news sources, whether it’s shutting down the Internet, and whether — or whether it’s, what I would say, interfering with elections of other countries.
You know, I think there is a need. And this is the first — I’ll emphasize that this is the first document to bring all these concepts together and put them in one place in this fashion, be agreed to by so many countries, and then to sort of stand on it — to stand on its own.
On the question — the related question is whether big tech is involved. I mean, they’re obviously stakeholders in this, and we’ve consulted, like any other stakeholder or any other member of civil society.
But the primary impetus here was to get at this question of state behavior and to meet what we have seen is a very negative trajectory, what we’ve seen as an effort to fundamentally change the Internet — the nature of the Internet — from something that is an instrument of commerce and culture to something that is an instrument of state power.
And, you know, we believe that winning this particular struggle is, frankly, key to — the key part of the overall struggle between democracies and authoritarian governments. So that’s the kind of — that’s the focus of this effort.
MODERATOR: Great. And, [senior administration official], you didn’t have anything to add, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. I think [senior administration official] was — nothing to add to [senior administration official]’s comments.
MODERATOR: Okay, great. So, everyone, thanks for joining us today.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to “senior administration officials.” The contents of this call are embargoed until tomorrow, Thursday, April 28th, 7:00 a.m. Eastern.
I’m about to send around the factsheet as well. Again, if you did not get the materials, please email NSC Press or email me. Thanks again, everyone, for joining.
4:28 P.M. EDT