Future of the Internet Declaration Issued by 61 Countries
Sixty countries and the United States have endorsed a “Future of the Internet” declaration document, which advocated for an open Internet that respects democratic and human rights.
The declaration’s endorsing countries were listed by the Biden administration in a Thursday White House “Fact Sheet” announcement. This “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” document (PDF) outlined broad concepts for how the Internet should be used. It touched on topics such as human rights, government and corporate conduct, as well as Internet accessibility and privacy issues.
No Legal Effect
The document, though, is basically a broad vision statement. It has no legal power.
“These principles are not legally binding but should rather be used as a reference for public policy makers, as well as citizens, businesses, and civil society organizations,” the document stated.
Although 60 governments signed the declaration, its principles don’t necessarily have to be followed by the signers when those principles conflict with domestic laws. The signers have pledged to “work together 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 document stated.
The document envisions its principles getting discussed “in the UN system, G7, G20, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Trade Organization, and other relevant multilateral and multistakeholder fora, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Internet Governance Forum, and Freedom Online Coalition.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group that’s focused on Internet issues, called the document’s principles “laudable” but also “aspirational,” in an announcement:
Implementing these principles will require many signatory countries to change their current practices, which include censoring online speech of marginalized communities, failing to build out affordable high-speed internet, using malware and mass surveillance to spy on users, fostering misinformation, secretly collecting personal information, and pressuring big tech platforms to police online speech.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a lobbyist “think tank” representing the financial interests of the U.S. software and telecom industries, among others, characterized the declaration as an effort by the European Union (EU) to dictate its policies globally, in an ITIF announcement:
The risk of efforts that try to bring consensus on a broad range of Internet issues, including those that are addressed at the domestic level, is that the strongest regulatory approaches will prevail — in most cases the EU’s — at the cost of needed innovation and economic growth or competing values.
Some of the EU regulatory efforts that are opposed by the ITIF are its “data privacy” policy, “antitrust policy” and its “Digital Markets Act proposal,” per the ITIF announcement.
Microsoft, for its part, described the declaration as “a vital step at a critical moment,” in a Thursday announcement by Brad Smith, the company’s president and vice chair. He suggested that Internet agreements were needed by “governments together with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], academic researchers, tech companies and many others from across the business community.”
Smith also suggested that the tech sector should grow up and accept government regulation.
“This decade will require that the tech sector mature and adapt to regulation,” Smith wrote.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media’s Converge360 group.