July 18, 2018

Internet Governance Needs America, Now More Than Ever



Yesterday, the Niskanen Center submitted comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that discussed what policy issues the agency should prioritize in future international discussions surrounding Internet governance.

The Internet stands at a crossroads. One road leads to a future where American values – openness, free speech, respect for the dignity of the individual – continue to define the essential qualities of Internet governance. The other road, as we note in our comments to NTIA, “would lead us toward a theory of Internet governance that is inherently antithetical to those American values. The core vision of this alternative path … is a government-dictated, command-and-control system of governance.” In order to ensure the former vision triumphs, NTIA and the Trump administration must continue to promote the basic tenets originally articulated in the 1997 Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, which laid the groundwork for the emergence of the modern digital ecosystem.

To that end, the Niskanen Center organized recommendations according to the four broad policy priority categories identified by NTIA:

The Free Flow of Information and Jurisdiction

  1. Maintain a steady and unapologetic commitment to the American approach to privacy governance, balancing digital privacy with other rights and interests, such as freedom of expression and the growth of the digital economy;
  2. Express support for digital competition policies rooted in a defense of the consumer welfare standard, rather than broad, ill-defined, and economically unsound claims (such as “data price gouging” or “excessive data pricing”) that might justify unwarranted interference in the market;
  3. Defend the value of, and advocate for, online intermediary liability protections as an important legal framework for safeguarding free speech and digital trade; and
  4. Offer recommendations to, and share information with, the Departments of Justice and State in future deliberations over bilateral data-sharing agreements pursuant to the CLOUD Act.

 

Multistakeholder Approach to Internet Governance

  1. Continuously reaffirm the Department of Commerce’s commitment to the Framework and related soft law governance principles;
  2. Emphasize the need for the private sector and civil society to lead on international multistakeholder efforts, while reiterating NTIA’s limited role as a convener and advocate for the multistakeholder governance process; and
  3. Stay the course on the successful IANA Stewardship Transition.

 

Privacy and Security

  1. Affirm and support the United States’ long-standing approach of regulating privacy sector-by-sector rather than across-the-board;
  2. Reiterate the value of secure encryption for promoting trust in, and the growth of, the digital market; and
  3. Affirm the United States’ commitment to regulating privacy concerns domestically, while abstaining from accepting amorphous and unenforceable international standards or agreements, even if only nonbinding.

 

Emerging Technology and Trends

  1. Defend intermediary liability protections for online service providers and content delivery networks; and
  2. Leverage the institutional knowledge housed at the Emerging Technology and Research Advisory Committee to help inform international conversations regarding new technologies.

 

The Department of Commerce and NTIA have an important role to play in defending the essential features that govern the global Internet. By using international fora as a platform for pushing back against ill-conceived foreign laws, affirming America’s commitment to multistakeholder governance and sectorally-based privacy rules, and staying the course on the IANA transition, the Trump administration can ensure America’s vision for the Internet continues to triumph.

From the executive summary:

One of the primary challenges to the continued free flow of information and speech online is the potential for a “control-driven model” of global Internet governance to supplant the existing American-inspired order. National laws and regulations, promulgated by countries around the world, could potentially impede cross-border information flows, to the significant detriment of not only U.S. companies and private sector interests, but free expression and human rights as well. But the threats to the current paradigm of multistakeholder-driven Internet governance do not spring only from nation-states. The emergence of advanced technologies, such as automated botnets, hold the potential to devolve considerable power over the globally-networked digital ecosystem into the hands of non-state actors. It is a fragile time for the Internet.

To combat these many emerging threats, it is imperative that the United States continue to play a leading role in defending the existing order for Internet governance. Digital commerce and trade requires a consistent, predictable, and simple legal environment to maximize the benefits to human beings worldwide. The right to freedom of expression, similarly, requires certainty and trust in an online environment made possible by a consensus-driven model of governance, led by stakeholders from industry and civil society capable of equitably balancing the complicated trade-offs that no single nation-state can do by fiat. The private sector and civil society have shown they can lead the way. In order for an American-inspired vision of Internet governance to triumph, however, the United States must continue to promote multistakeholder governance, while pushing back against ill-conceived laws and regulations that would threaten the free and open Internet.

Read the full comments here.