Apr 28, 2022 - Technology

More than 55 countries sign a declaration for internet freedom

An illustration of a globe covered in red Ethernet cords

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries have signed a pact committing to keeping the internet freely accessible and open.

Why it matters: The move is designed to counter a growing trend of countries enacting policies to block part or all of the internet.

Details: The "Declaration for the Future of the Internet" commits signatories to ensuring the internet is "open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure" and works as "a single, decentralized network of networks."

  • The three-page document encourages working through an array of existing global organizations, including ICANN, the UN, the G7 and others.
  • It outlines a number of broad goals around protecting human rights, promoting competition, ensuring sustainability and refraining from using the network as a tool for government surveillance.

Context: The document grew out of a Biden administration-led effort, originally known as the Alliance for the Future of the Internet. The project has since evolved, as evidenced by changes from the wording of an earlier leaked document reported by Politico. That draft called for more specific cooperation around internet regulation and cybersecurity standards, among other goals.

Who's on board: Signatories include Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, North Macedonia, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Uruguay, as well as the European Commission.

Who's not: Russia, China and North Korea haven't signed on. Neither have India and Brazil.

Yes, but: Administration officials say the declaration remains open and they hope to see more countries join the effort.

The big picture: The declaration comes amid increasing fears that the global Internet could fracture into various "splinternets," as well as a rise in countries implementing partial or total blocks on internet access. Internet freedom declined for the 11th year in a row, per Freedom House.

Between the lines: While the declaration addresses some issues related to cyberattacks, such as ransomware and international election interference, the pact is not the kind of Geneva Convention of cyberwarfare that many advocate.

  • Some of the goals around human rights and competition are easy to embrace as broad bullet points, but the signatories' practices could easily diverge.

What they're saying: "In order to protect human rights online, especially freedom of expression, it’s now necessary to invest in broadband connections and digital skills, while also protecting against surveillance, online violence and discrimination, and cyberattacks," Karen Kornbluh, director of the German Marshall Fund's Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative, told Axios.

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