Last week, we led a delegation which included representatives from our offices and the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ Office of International Communications and Information Policy that had the honor of representing the United States at the Freedom Online Coalition conference in Tallinn, Estonia. The Freedom Online Coalition is a group of governments committed to concrete action in support of Internet freedom -- the exercise of freedom of expression, assembly, and association, as well as privacy rights, online -- around the world. The Coalition consists of 23 governments, including Moldova and Japan, who were introduced as new members at this year's conference.
The chair of the Coalition, Estonia, hosted approximately 400 individuals from government, business, and civil society from April 28-29. As a cradle for e-business and e-governance innovation, Estonia demonstrates to the world how Internet openness and democratic governance can lead to stability, innovation, and economic growth. Participating in this open, inclusive conference just as the Russian Parliament approved new legislation restricting the rights of bloggers brought into sharp relief the different paths that these neighboring countries have chosen.
At the end of the first day, Secretary Kerry gave remarks via live video chat, distinguishing between these two paths, noting that "we believe in an open and inclusive Internet with input from all and equal access to all… and in giving people a voice from the bottom up. The authoritarian vision sees a free, open, inclusive Internet as a threat to state power. ... For them, it’s about creating a fragmented Internet that divides us rather than unites us, that minimizes the voice of people and maximizes their ability to cloud the truth." Secretary Kerry emphasized that “we need to each stand for an open, secure, and inclusive Internet, and we each must work for the day when we are bound together not only by the humanity that ties us all together, but by the freedoms that for too long have been the province of too few. That’s our mission.”
Secretary Kerry also addressed privacy concerns in the digital space, noting that “cyber security cannot come at the expense of cyber privacy.” After laying out the steps that the Obama Administration has taken to review our signals intelligence practices, he articulated the values that underlie this process: first, rule of law – democracies must act according to clear, legal authorities, and their intelligence agencies must not exceed those authorities; second, legitimate purpose – democracies should collect intelligence only for legitimate reasons and in a non-arbitrary fashion; third, oversight – judicial, legislative or other bodies such as independent inspectors general play a key role in ensuring that these activities fall within legal bounds; and finally, transparency – the principles governing such activities need to be understood so that free people can debate them and play their part in shaping these choices.
These principles help distinguish the legitimate practices of states governed by the rule of law from the illegitimate practices of states that use surveillance to repress their people. We are proud that the Freedom Online Coalition endorsed these principles last week as part of its Tallinn Agenda. In addition to enumerating these principles, the Tallinn Agenda also included reaffirmation of support for an open Internet and multistakeholder governance, as well as commitments to support technologies that enable human rights online and to condemn governments that violate those rights.
In addition to various activities throughout the year, the Coalition hosts an annual multi-stakeholder meeting, to deepen the conversation about how to protect human rights online. Mongolia will assume chairmanship of the Coalition this year and host the next conference in 2015. We look forward to continuing our work through the Coalition with partners in government, civil society, and business to protect, promote, and advance Internet freedom worldwide. As Secretary Kerry so eloquently said: “All of [us] at the Freedom Online Coalition are on the right side of this debate, and now we need to make sure that all of us together wind up on the right side of history.”