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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at Going Digital: OECD Insights for a Changing World

March 25, 2019

Remarks of David J. Redl 
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
USCIB’s “Going Digital: OECD Insights for a Changing World”
Washington, D.C.
March 25, 2019

Good afternoon. It’s great to be back at USCIB.

I believe the last time I spoke at this event I had yet to take on the mantle of NTIA Administrator. It’s been a tremendous privilege working with NTIA staff over the past year and a half to advance the U.S. vision for Internet policy. 

Our work has never been more important, especially on the international front. USCIB’s membership includes the best of America’s digital economy, so I know that you also recognize the stakes.

Around the world, there is great stress being placed on the open, interoperable Internet, and on American technology firms. But despite the differences we have with our allies and adversaries alike, today I want to emphasize that there is still great opportunity for consensus building and collaboration.

Since I’ve joined NTIA we’ve been very active internationally – and I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the road – but it’s been for important reasons.

For decades, our government has celebrated and encouraged our increasingly digital society, but we’re increasingly seeing some countries take a different direction. They are crafting policies that place significant barriers to economic growth and the free flow of information.      

This takes shape as:

  • national schemes for taxing digital businesses;
  • a fracturing landscape of privacy regulations;
  • data localization rules and the restriction of data flows;
  • laws that make platforms liable for content shared on their networks, and laws making confusing and conflicting demands on how to treat speech;
  • … and the list goes on. 

None of these ideas are new, exactly, and some of these same issues are being debated in Washington, D.C., and state capitals across the U.S.  Many proposals are responding to well-founded concerns about how to address societal challenges that our digital world presents.

But they’re troubling developments nonetheless, and they underscore the difficulties we face. Solving these challenges will require trade-offs and hard decisions. The Trump Administration’s approach is built upon a commitment to meeting these challenges in a way that ensures America’s prosperity and clears the way for innovation. 

America has seen enormous benefits from this approach. We must continue to give a green light to innovators to create a more secure, more open, and more prosperous Internet.

How can we do this? What is the American vision for preserving the Internet in light of an increasingly complicated international environment? 

Many of you can take credit for already helping answer this question.  Last summer NTIA asked for your input in a broad request for how we should set our international Internet policy priorities. 

In those comments you gave us clarification on the specific laws and policy trends negatively affecting businesses, consumers, and users, as well as confirmation of what we have been doing well.

You confirmed that the multistakeholder model of Internet governance is a bedrock principle of the global Internet, and that the global, consensus-driven management of the Internet’s critical resources is a necessary precondition for having a vibrant digital economy. 

You also confirmed that some international organizations are better than others at having productive discussion on how countries should collaborate on solving critical Internet policy issues. That is why we are refocusing our efforts at the OECD and APEC and their productive working groups.

And last fall, during the International Telecommunication Union’s Plenipotentiary, we fought hard to get Doreen Bogdan-Martin, a former NTIA staff member, elected to the leadership team. She’s not only the first woman elected to a top post in the 153-year history of the institution, but she is bringing dynamic and transformative leadership to the ITU’s Development, or “D,” Sector.

Finally, you confirmed what I mentioned a few moments ago: that American companies are operating in an increasingly complicated environment, with some countries pushing alternative visions for what national sovereignty and responsible governance means for a connected world. 

For America’s vision to continue, we must redouble our efforts when it comes to fostering global cooperation. The U.S. needs to demonstrate leadership and build greater consensus on how to handle these new challenges – and that means engaging in uncomfortable conversations with our allies in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. 

We often say that the Internet’s defining characteristics are its global reach and interoperability.  Because of these characteristics, our citizens expect to be able to access data and content from around the world, have their data stored anywhere and everywhere, and when they endeavor to start digital businesses, expect to have a fair chance to compete for customers globally.  

We must sustain these expectations and build consensus around shared policy perspectives and modes of implementation, so that the burden we place on firms doesn’t stifle the innovation and efficiency of a global market.

We need an environment where working across jurisdictions does not require major modifications to a business’ core product or service. We need a common understanding around how countries respect the rights and values of their citizens, whose civic, social, and personal lives are largely digitized. In these areas we still have more in common with our European partners than we do differences.

We should strive to form a bulwark against countries that do not share our values. This will take hard work and it will take creative thinking, and we will lean on strong international institutions like the OECD, which are built for likeminded countries to build and codify consensus.   

We have trading partners that broadly share democratic and market-based values with which we can work bilaterally. While we might disagree on particular policy approaches to taxation, privacy, or platform liability, there is much more that binds us than divides us.

For instance, we might disagree with specific provisions in European or Japanese privacy law, but we should be far more concerned with how China and Russia are regulating data processing and storage. 

It is one thing to argue about the legal bases for data processing in European law or conflicting interpretations from their enforcement authorities. It is another thing entirely when we’re talking about people being stripped of their rights, with no due process, based solely on their interactions with ostensibly private but often state-directed companies.

We must be clear that there are areas where the U.S. will be uncompromising. America’s strong commitment to free speech is the starting point for any discussion about the approach to content on the Internet. The U.S. will not sign on to any best practice that recommends banning broad categories of speech from the Internet.   

We will also not agree to any plan that would place international organizations in charge of making important decisions about the Internet or the content and services that move across it.  That risks placing the future of the Internet in the hands of a bureaucracy which does not recognize consensus. 

However, it’s imperative to focus on what we can do, and find the great spaces for agreement that exist between like-minded countries that are willing to work together.

Let’s look to the signs of progress – and there are plenty to be found – that we can build on as we move toward a renewed period of collaboration and coordination. 

In May, the OECD is poised to agree on a new Recommendation on artificial intelligence geared toward building trust in and adoption of its use. This has been a hard fought negotiation for the United States. It has involved a lot of the give-and-take that I think will be necessary to find common ground with countries that share our values

Artificial intelligence is a clear strategic priority for this Administration. The OECD Recommendation is largely aligned with the recently signed executive order on AI, which you can read about on the newly launched AI.gov.

The U.S. has also recognized that in taking on the task of updating our privacy regime, we can learn important lessons from how our allies tackled the same issue.

This past fall, U.S. allies came together to reject major changes to the scope of the ITU’s mandate at the Plenipotentiary in Dubai. NTIA, with its interagency partners, was able to stave off the regulation of the Internet and help refocus the organization on its important spectrum and satellite missions.

The U.S. continues to work within the IGF community to promote the development of this multistakeholder Internet policy event, which will take place in November in Berlin.

And finally, we’re also continuing to expand the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules System, and confirmed the value of this framework for moving data across borders in the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That agreement included the strongest provisions on digital trade that you’ll see in any international pact, a demonstration that we can find the common cause we’re searching for.

These are encouraging signs, and our work with partners around the world will continue so that we can preserve and protect the global, interoperable Internet and the digital economy it supports. 

I look forward to your input and support for these efforts in the OECD and beyond. 

Thank you.