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Global Viewpoint

The Internet will not survive unless we defend it

The open Internet that 2.5 billion people around the world rely on is under threat, as governments increasingly seek control of information flow. Only concerted moves by stakeholders can protect its valued openness. The US especially must set high standards for transparency and freedom.

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For example, the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement calls on the two countries to “refrain from imposing or maintaining unnecessary barriers to electronic information flows across borders.” The US has trade agreements with most countries in the world, and these agreements provide an opportunity to promote our values.

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To build on these recommendations and further promote US digital trade, the Council on Foreign Relations task force recommends the following:

  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership, the upcoming US-European trade negotiations, and future bilateral agreements should guarantee the free flow of information across borders.
  • The US, along with its trading partners, should create a digital due process for requests on content removal and user data that is consistent across nations. This could prevent countries like Singapore, which has announced that news websites that report on the country must be licensed and could be fined if they do not remove any story deemed objectionable by the government, from independently enacting due process for content-removal requests.
  • The US and others should make the transfer of data between governments more transparent and efficient by improving the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, or MLAT system. The US already has more than 60 MLAT agreements in place.
  • With its Japanese and European counterparts, the US trade representative should coordinate pressure on India and Brazil to lift procurement regulations, location requirements, and other nontariff barriers to trade.
  • The US should protect intellectual property, while preserving the rights of users to access lawful content. The US Congress debated this issue during negotiations over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). The bills, stalled for now, will be reintroduced in the future in some form.
  • The US should help create an environment in which the Internet economy flourishes. This is beneficial for the US and the entire world.

US companies and universities remain at the technological cutting edge, and the US continues to be an important role model. The US can exert a great deal of influence as a positive model, and US technology companies have already taken the lead. Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and other companies now issue transparency reports that detail the number of requests they receive from government law enforcement for data on users around the world.

Previous success in areas such as democracy promotion and human rights depended heavily on leadership by example. The US does not own the Internet, nor is it responsible for fixing or updating it. Indeed, no one nation can fix the Internet, now used by every nation on earth. However, the US can set high standards in hopes that the rest of the world will follow.

The open, global Internet is unlikely to continue to flourish without deliberate action to promote and defend it. Political, economic, and technological forces are seeking to splinter the Internet into something that looks more like national networks, with each government controlling its own domestic sphere as well as the flow of data and information among countries. A global Internet increasingly fragmented into national systems is not in the interest of the world or the US.

John Negroponte was the first director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush. He is also Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy and senior lecturer in international affairs at Yale University. He co-chaired, with Samuel J. Palmisano, the Council on Foreign Relations task force white paper “Defending an Open, Global, Secure, and Resilient Internet.”

© 2013 Yale Global/Global Viewpoint Network, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC, Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor

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