On April 28, the Biden administration led 60 countries to sign a “Declaration for the future of the internet.”
Its stated goal of advancing a positive vision for the Internet in the 21st century, grounded in the democratic values of openness, inclusion, and human rights, is worth pursuing and to be commended. However, the lack of a public process to craft the statement represents a missed opportunity for US leaders and raises credibility issues for the Biden administration.
For nearly 25 years, the United States has been at the forefront of shaping international technology policy. Leading a series of groundbreaking achievements in collaborative policymaking, the United States has brought together nations, the private sector, civil society, and average citizens to drive innovation and economic growth in the global digital economy. ‘today. These efforts, including a series of Internet policy principles and statements, have culminated in the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance in which open and transparent engagement with all stakeholders is the norm.
Some of this important collaborative and inclusive work continues today. At the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterres is call for global digital cooperation among nations and convening the 17th edition of the Global Internet Governance Forum, preparations are underway for the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society and the work of International Telecommunication Union Development Office engages Internet users to contribute to creating connectivity for all to the Internet of tomorrow.
Unfortunately, despite all the successes of the multi-stakeholder model, it continues to be attacked by bureaucracies determined to retain antiquated notions of central governance. We need look no further than the recent adoption by the European Union of a broad numerical rulers to see this type of retrograde internet policy. Through an insular and closed process, Brussels bureaucrats passed laws intended to impose their values on the entire internet.
Such a brazen attempt by Europe to impose its will on American netizens should infuriate even the most ardent American Europhile. This should give our nation a reason to redouble the transparency, cooperation, and bottom-up policy-making efforts that have been the hallmark of the Internet’s success.
Instead, the Biden administration has eschewed transparency and engagement, adopting the same closed, government-only process that the EU has used. The declaration purports to represent a commitment to guaranteeing democratic principles online, but the lack of transparency and commitment used throughout its drafting proclaims otherwise. Perhaps more troubling, as the United States has seen fit to cut off the public and create politics behind closed doors, authoritarian regimes will feel empowered to follow suit.
Only time will tell if last week’s event was a true inflection point in the history of Internet governance or just a single errant data point. Governing in the open is a difficult and messy process. Allowing all voices to be heard and seeking consensus is hard work, work that requires a principled approach.
For the future of the Internet, let’s hope that this closed chapter of Internet governance is an aberration.
Fiona M. Alexander is a Fellow Emeritus of the American University’s Internet Governance Lab. David J. Redl is a principal investigator at the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.