On January 23 Daniel Sepulveda, the State Department’s Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, gave a notable speech in Washington on Internet governance. This is the first US official statement on the topic since the NSA spying scandal broke and altered the landscape. Entitled “Internet Governance 2020 – Geopolitics and the Future of the Internet,” the speech signaled the Obama administration’s openness to reform as long as it is conducted within a multistakeholder framework.
Reacting to the famous Montevideo statement, which directly challenged the United States’ unilateral control of the IANA function, Sepulveda said only, “We appreciate the thoughtful leadership of the technical community and we hope their efforts will spur further consideration of how we can continue to make multistakeholder governance more inclusive while maintaining the stability of the open and innovative Internet.” To us, this indicates a willingness to entertain reasonable proposals for reforming the ICANN-USG relationship; it definitely falls far short of opposing any change or of erecting barriers to such a change. The ambassador did, however, push forward the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – not the Brazil meeting – as “one venue that is fully open and, therefore, particularly well suited to address these issues in the most global and inclusive fashion.”
That language did not, however, foreclose the possibility that the Brazil meeting on the future of Internet governance could also make progress on that issue. The Ambassador referred to the IGF as one venue among many, and said of the Brazil meeting, that “the Brazilian government and the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee appear to be reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders to shape the meeting. These are good signs.” Continuing in this cautious but encouraging mode, Sepulveda affirmed that “we’ve been in touch with the Brazilian government as we consider the best potential role for the U.S. government.”
We are aware that some people in the world are unhappy with the status quo of Internet governance, but we believe that any change should come in the form of more, not less, decentralized and inclusive participation of people, institutions, firms, experts, private citizens, and governments in multistakeholder institutions. –Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Sepulveda
Regarding the NSA revelations, Sepulveda’s talk put President Obama’s Review group report and Obama’s proposed reforms forward as an example of how democratic nations are capable of correcting mistakes. He also tried to separate the NSA issue from global Internet governance, warning against confusing “the issue of intelligence gathering with U.S. positions on Internet governance.” And he repeatedly emphasized an aspect of the President’s reforms that we believe has not gotten enough attention: the “commitment to respecting the privacy of all people, regardless of nationality.” This was a reference to President Obama’s directive to “the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the attorney general, to develop [privacy] safeguards [for foreign nationals], which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information while also restricting the use of this information.” Such a move toward globalization of privacy rights does have long-term implications for global Internet governance.
In conclusion, the speech solidified the sense that there are serious reform opportunities before the world in the area of global Internet governance.