Rebecca MacKinnon: Good morning. Thank you for coming. I know this is a very heavy news day. We were worried that no one would show up, given that we’re competing with Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing. So we really appreciate you coming out and taking the time for this event.
A couple of quick announcements. This is being livestreamed, so FYI. It’s out there on the Internet. There is a Twitter hashtag, which is #NetFreedom45, “45” standing for the 45th President. So #NetFreedom45 if you feel like participating in the Twittersphere during this. So feel free to tweet, and we’ll be trying to bring in some people from the Twittersphere later on into the conversation as well, as we go along.
I’m Rebecca MacKinnon. I direct a project based here at New America called Ranking Digital Rights, although I’m here today not in the capacity of representing Ranking Digital Rights but rather in my broader role as a person who over the past dozen-plus years has been working under the guise of half a dozen institutional affiliations on Internet freedom, as a researcher, as a writer, and as an advocate. So that’s kind of the hat I’m wearing today. And also as a member of New America and an affiliate of the Open Technology Institute, and a number of colleagues are here.
The peg for this event today is the release late last year of a paper putting forth some recommendations for the 45th presidential administration’s Internet freedom agenda, and we have the executive summary, which has been out on the table and you may have seen it. You can download the full report from the URL which is at the bottom of the second page here. So the executive summary’s obviously just kind of top-line findings.
The report was written primarily by myself and two talented and indefatigable colleagues, Liz Woolery and Andi Wilson right here, without whom none of it would have gotten done. So I really appreciate that. But there’s been a great deal of input from other colleagues in the building and also throughout the community of organizations and individuals who work full-time or close to full-time on Internet freedom-related issues. And so it really represents and is inspired by a much broader set of people and work than are actually named there, either as authors or in the acknowledgments. So I just want to thank everybody who contributed in different ways and also thank those whose work we have built upon, including Freedom House. We’ll be citing Freedom House’s reports. And Access Now has also published recommendations for the next administration that came out in the fall. And so there’s a lot of work that this is building upon.
I also have a couple other specific thank yous. First and foremost to the MacArthur Foundation, which supported the work on these recommendations. And tremendous thanks to the ever-capable Allison Yost—I don’t know if she’s in the room or if she’s out in front greeting people—without whom everything would not go smoothly and it would look bad. And so really thanks to her. And also to OTI’s director Kevin Bankston, who just came in, whose support and input was vital And also to Sarah Morris, who runs Open Internet Policy for OTI. And Ross Schulman, who is co-director of the Cybersecurity Initiative and senior policy counsel at OTI. Without the support and input of all these people, we wouldn’t have much to say that would make any sense so I really thank you all, and we wouldn’t have had the time and support to do this.
So, more about the substance and content of the report in a minute. First I want to introduce the panel we have here today. This is not going to be a long presentation about the content of the report. I’m going to give a sort of quick overview and then I really want to hear the perspectives of the people who we’ve brought here today who are experts in various aspects of the subject, and I know we also have a lot of people in the room who have come with perspectives and thoughts to share, and the discussion and conversation that people want to have. So I’m hoping we can open it all up sooner than later and have a lively discussion.
So first, here to my immediate left is Amie Stepanovich, US Policy Manager for Access Now. Daniel Calingaert, Acting President of Freedom House. Ambassador David Gross, who is currently partner at Wiley Rein, but former US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy. I think I first met you in 2005 in Tunis at the World Summit for Information Society, where you were negotiating what might’ve been a trainwreck and helped avert that on Internet governance, so we’ll get to that later. And last but not least Nilmini Rubin, currently Vice President for International Development at Tetra Tech, former Senior Advisor for Global Economic Competitiveness in the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. And we really thank her for coming, because I understand that her former colleagues over at the House had saved her a seat in Rex Tillerson’s hearing today, and she is here instead. So I hope we can make this worthwhile. So thank you very much.
And again, I’m sure that there are folks in the room who are keen to talk about what the next administration is or isn’t likely to do, as well as a range of concerns and potential responses. But at first a quick overview of the report.
And one think I want to point out is that in developing our recommendations, we began thinking about the recommendations and working on this project long long before the election. We started thinking about it in the spring. We started putting together ideas in the summer and consulting with people. So this report is not a response to the result of the election. It’s not a response to the individual who has been elected. It’s more building on policies that have been implemented to date, and what we feel needs to come next regardless of whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. And so that’s kind of the substance of the report. So it’s not a reaction to what’s happened since the election.
So one thing just to kind of clarify. One thing that we do in the report—it’s not in the executive summary but it’s kind of near the top of the report you can download, is we have a set of definitions, because when people talk about Internet freedom, when they talk about Internet governance, when they talk about human rights, they might mean different things. So we do set forth kind of what we mean by these things. And I’m not going to recite all the definitions here today but I am going to just briefly clarify the definition we’re using of Internet freedom, just so that we all start out talking about roughly the same thing. It’s still interpreted different ways.
But a very useful formulation comes from the State Department, which describes Internet freedom as enabling “any child, born anywhere in the world, [to have] access to the global Internet as an open platform on which to innovate, learn, organize, and express herself free from undue interference and censorship.” And so when we’re talking about advancing Internet freedom, we’re talking about advancing a world in which that is possible, that advances that vision. And so our recommendations build on that formulation, which we point out, throughout the report, has longstanding—we believe and we’ve observed has longstanding bipartisan support. This is not a partisan idea. This transcends partisan politics.
The recommendations are grouped under three overarching headings which are free flow of information, which kind of addresses freedom of expression-related issues; people-centric security, which deals with surveillance, encryption, and privacy-related issues; and accountable multi-stakeholder governance. Those are sort of the three buckets of recommendation. But also undergirding those recommendations are three core principles which we have in the executive here that really run throughout all three different categories of recommendations.
The first is that Internet freedom starts at home. You cannot promote global Internet freedom unless you’re practicing what you preach. So, you need to establish best practices and model them at home when it comes to access, when it comes to free flow of information, when it comes to privacy, when it comes to how surveillance is handled, how law enforcement is handled, all those different issues. How policy is made. Internet freedom starts at home.
Secondly, one thing has become very clear I think to the entire community that works on Internet freedom issues, is that Internet freedom needs effective cross-border policy coordination. And that to date that has been insufficient. It has resulted, I think, in a number of the setbacks that we’ve been seeing and that some of the panelists will talk about, in terms of even in democracies we’re seeing measurable declines in Internet freedom due to policies that are trying to address genuine, immediate concerns. But they’re doing so in a way that’s not really considering what’s the long-term impact on this global network and on how policies are formulated globally. So that’s one area in which we identified the United States has a real opportunity to lead in promoting better cross-border policy coordination if there’s a will in the new administration.
And then finally Internet freedom needs accountable multistakeholder governance. We live in a world where governments cannot, obviously, do this alone. There needs to be buy-in from a whole range of non-state actors, in order to assure a free and open, interoperable Internet. We need private sector. We need civil society. We need ways to ensure accountability and policy consistency that can’t happen only through agreements between governments. And of course Ambassador Gross will talk more about sort of how we’re trying to move forward in that.
And so I’m not going to do a long presentation about the specifics of the recommendations. You can read the executive summary. Just to to point out a couple of things, one is that in addition to kind of freedom to connect, there also needs to be the ability to connect, and that we need to model best practice at home and around the world, and the policies that relate to that.
With freedom of expression we have some serious challenges around how do you fight terror, how do you fight extremist speech, bullying, crime, and so on online without violating rights, while still preserving freedom. We believe that actually, security and freedom should be symbiotic and mutually self-enforcing. And that’s part of the argument we make in the people-centric security section. And we’re trying to make the case to the next administration that if we want to see a secure and free society going forward in the United States and globally, that the two need to be integrated, not considered at odds with one another or a zero-sum game.
And so of course we do take a position on encryption. We’re for strong encryption. We’re not for backdoors. We would like to see the United States make a strong stand in that area and promote best practice amongst like-minded governments. We want to see better coordination amongst— There’s a set of governments who have joined the Freedom Online Coalition, who have made commitments to a free and open Internet. We want to see better coordination around meeting those commitments.
And we have some recommendations also related to sanctions and export controls, and how we make sure that while we’re trying to prevent bad actors from doing bad things we’re not also inadvertently punishing activists or preventing security research from happening and so on.
We have a recommendation around mutual legal assistance treaties and the need to make sure that privacy is protected in there. And then on Internet governance, we are very much in favor of the IANA transition and what has happened. We are pushing, however, to—we think that the US has a real role to play in ensuring that ICANN and other multistakeholder Internet governance organizations are truly multistakeholder. That they’re governed accountably. And that there’s real support for stakeholders from all over the world, not just whichever governments and companies have the most money to participate actively, and ensure that these new governance mechanisms and systems have real credibility with people around the world. Because if they don’t have enough credibility and buy-in, there will be exit and various governments will seek to disband them.
So that’s sort of the general overview. And I’m sure there will be lots of concerns raised and opinions voiced. But I want to start by turning to Daniel from Freedom House. Freedom House, because of your reports, because of all of the civil society groups you work with around the world, you have a really I think unique perspective. I know Access does as well with many of the groups. And with your Freedom on the Net reports, Freedom in the World reports, you’re really tracking very systematically what’s happening with Internet freedom around the world. What the threats are. And so we’d love to hear kind of your framing of the problems and the opportunities, and what your suggestions are for the next administration.
Daniel Calingaert: Well thank you Rebecca for the opportunity to speak. If we were having this discussion five or six years ago we would start with the simple premise that the Internet, left on its own, would expand the bounds of freedom. For that very reason, authoritarian governments have sought to control it. And if we look at what’s happened over recent years, those controls have expanded, proliferated, grown more intense and more sophisticated.
The Freedom on the Net report has documented six consecutive years of decline in Internet freedom. And the controls are affecting more and more people. One of the noteworthy conclusions of the most recent report, which came out in November, is just the unprecedented targeting of social media users. So it’s going beyond activists and journalists and affecting ordinary people who never thought of themselves even as political actors or maybe even politically involved. We’re also seeing the expansion of the controls to blocking of messaging apps, and more and more network shutdowns.
So those set of threats to Internet freedom have increased. And at the same time I see two additional areas where the threats have become a lot more prominent. One I would summarize as the manipulation of the online space to undermine freedom. So whether we’re talking about violent extremist content, propaganda, fake news—and not meaning you know, fake news is sort of a catch-all insult—but really deliberately falsified information. I think those are all different aspects of this manipulation of the online space.
And then the other significant threat is that there is a vast expansion of personal data, and it’s all aspects of our lives, which make things a lot more convenient and efficient but it puts our privacy much more at risk. And much of that data is not well protected.
MacKinnon: And I remember one of the things that came up in your report as well, and I know we have a few people here from the private sector, is that the increased focus by governments on using platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, and pressuring companies to control content in the way they want. And this is a growing issue.
Calingaert: Yeah. It’s not an entirely new phenomenon. So if you look at even several years ago in the most restrictive environments, there was already a lot of emphasis on intermediary liability. In other words making local companies responsible for the content they hosted. And I think those governments have seen that users will turn to Facebook and international platforms to try to access more content and communicate more freely. So the bigger international companies are more and more targeted by government.
MacKinnon: Yeah. And then finally, as a final follow-up. You know, from Freedom House’s perspective, with the new administration going forward, what are things that you think they should continue to build upon? What are things that you think they should do differently or change emphasis on? Do you have any specific recommendations?
Calingaert: I have a number of specific recommendations, but I would start with sort of the larger premise, particularly since the President-elect has not shown great interest in democracy and human rights generally. Much more emphasis on trade and advancing US economic interests. And I would say that there’s a very strong pragmatic case to be made for defending Internet freedom. I mean in the broadest perspective, not just freedom on the Internet but freedom generally serves US interests. I mean, the more countries that are democratic the more likely we are to have reliable partners, stability, economic prosperity, and so on.
If you look at the Internet specifically, the free flow of information and data very much facilitates US business and growth. And I would hope the new administration is well aware of the dominance that American technology companies have in most markets around the world. And I think that’s very much connected to Internet freedom and our defense of it.
MacKinnon: So, turning to sort of the pragmatic case, the incoming administration is is run by someone who knows construction well, who knows infrastructure. And so Nilmini, in your new role but also in your previous role on on the hill, you’ve been doing a lot of work about how do we connect the unconnected. And kind of what needs to be built. And what the United States should be doing to help make that possible, to help get it implemented as the fundamental…you know, you can’t have Internet freedom if you’re not on the Internet, right. So I’d love to hear your perspective on that and also any other thoughts you have about— You know, Access Now and some other groups have issued statements and kind of appealed the World Bank and others working on issues of connectivity that we need to make sure that when people are connected they’re connected in a way that enables freedom of expression and and privacy as well. And so, love to hear your thoughts.
Nilmini Rubin: Thank you, Rebecca, and thank you for your report. I think there are a lot of pieces that I really appreciated in it. But I particularly appreciated that you recognized access as a challenge. More than half of the people on Earth don’t have access to the Internet. And so that’s really their big Internet freedom problem, is they don’t have the freedom to get on the Internet.
And so thinking about that is important for the US. And I think will be of particular interest to this administration, which we expect (we don’t know yet) but we expect will be interested in market-based growth around the world. And that opens up our companies to new clients and customers abroad. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers are outside of the United States. So when they get Internet access it’s good for us. We can connect with them, we can sell to them. And there’s a lot of things that we could just do better through policy that are inexpensive from a US perspective that can have massive impact in developing countries.
So, I previously worked for the House but I currently work for Tetratech which is a large engineering and consulting company. And I’ve seen really how powerful some of the ideas that we have around “build once” can be, so the Digital GAP Act that you referenced in your report calls on the the United States to adopt this build once approach. Like, if we’re going to fund roads, we should coordinate with the private sector to lay a cable on it. Or if towers are being built, we should coordinate with the private sector to see if they want to wire at the same time.
It’s not calling on the US to pay for it. We understand that private sector is providing the bulk of Internet infrastructure around the world. But it’s allowing it to do it in a cheaper way. When you dig up the road and then put it back down, that costs a lot of money. And you can do it so much cheaper if you just coordinate at the same time; it’s pennies on the dollar.
There’s an example of a World Bank loan going to Liberia. It was was a $100 million roads project and it would have been $1 million to lay cable under it. But it wasn’t because Internet was perceived as a luxury. It wasn’t recognized as part of modern core infrastructure, which it is now. And now when we’re going back to think about how to wire Liberia, it’s in the tens of millions of dollars. And unfortunately there’s multiple countries where you can tell tell that same story. Only Liberia, I think it connects with everyone’s heart because it could have been wired before ebola, and information could have been transmitted in a way that would’ve saved lives.
So I think that there’s a real opportunity for this new administration to take some some of the ideas that were done earlier with Global Connect, which you referenced in your report, which brought together companies and policymakers to promote Internet access and really scale that up. So to take it from an initiative and an idea to really implementing it just like we are doing on energy with the Power Africa initiative that’s helping promote energy in Africa. There’s a lot of opportunity for this next administration on promoting Internet access.
MacKinnon: Do you think there should be conditions placed or requirements placed on private sector partners in these types of projects, in terms of they need to be transparent let’s say about government request they’re getting for user data? Or some best practices around privacy and transparency and freedom of expression.
Rubin: I think that it will be important for us to develop clear policy on privacy and for cybersecurity. Because there’s no point in building an extensive infrastructure that’s weak on both— We want to make sure that it transmits our national security or economic, and our humanitarian goals. And if we do it in a way that’s weak, we don’t have those advantages. So I think that that’s part of really taking it to the next level when this next administration has the opportunity to consider ramping up Global Connect.
MacKinnon: Which brings us in a very good segue to Amie. You focus a lot on surveillance reform, on advocating for encryption both here in Washington but with with your organization Access Now really advocating globally. What do you think are the key arguments that need to be heard by the incoming administration?
Amie Stepanovich: Sure. So I think particularly on the two issues that I mostly work on that you focus on in your report, which is encryption and government surveillance there are a lot of, if you just look at the surface, reasons to be really pessimistic about what the upcoming administration is going to do on those issues. We have, for example, Donald Trump calling for a boycott of Apple during their confrontation with the FBI over whether or not they were going to build insecurities into their own systems. We had many comments about the need for more authority for law enforcement and for the national security apparatus.
But I think much like the previous two speakers actually went and tied issues into the economy and into issues that we hear the President-elect and his administration really care a lot about, and you start digging a little deeper, you get to see the reasons why we might actually see some positive steps on those issues.
So for example, you cannot have a digital economy without encryption. It just doesn’t work. The trust that users and that people, consumers, have in the Internet stems from the fact that they can conduct transactions securely. And so that is a reason really to push for strong encryption. And now, when you say the word “strong encryption,” oftentimes the government say those words and advocates say those words and they mean two very different things. But I think time will tell—I think history tells—so we can look both backward and forward to see that when you start forcing companies to direct resources away from building the most secure systems they could possibly build with the technology they have before them, and instead forcing them to devote any measure of those resources toward putting vulnerabilities into those systems it really magnifies the lack of trust that users are going to have in the Internet. It magnifies the holes that we see.
I am fond of quoting Matt Blaze, who is fond of saying that cryptographers are really bad at their jobs. Which basically means that most systems that ship, most systems that you use, any application on your phone, probably has a vulnerability or two in it when it comes to market. This is not because they want you to be vulnerable, this is because systems are really hard to build securely.
And so if you start forcing additional vulnerabilities into that, you’re going to start seeing a lot more people have their information compromised, you’re going to see a lot more data breaches. And it’s really scary to think of a world with more data breaches than what we already see. I think we’re already in a world where we see a data breach about every week, if not every day. And so we’re going to increase that security. And if the US doesn’t lead there, it’s equally scary to think who is going to step up. We’ve already seen laws implemented in China, in Kazakhstan, in Russia. There’s an old law in Colombia that bans the use of encryption by normal people. These are countries that are trying to step in and place a line on how secure the Internet can be. And since the US has really been historically the number one country dealing with this issue—we have arguments on encryption dating back to the 1970s—all you have to do is see where we are in the conversation to understand that these insecurities don’t really play out.
On surveillance we see the same thing. Just briefly, last year we probably got our number one argument why surveillance reform is desperately needed. And not only surveillance reform dealing with Americans—I’m going to say something fairly unpopular—but also surveillance reform of the US surveillance pointed at people outside the country.
That’s because Europeans finally looked at that and said, “You guys can basically target us for just about anything.” Not anything; there are some limitations. But under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333, both of which you reference in your report, these are very broad authorities, and they allow a lot of surveillance directed outside the country. And they used that surveillance to say, “We are no longer going to allow companies to store information in the United States.” They struck down the agreement to allow that to happen.
And that’s a huge blow to the private sector. That’s a huge blow to business. And I think a lot of the bigger companies were able to respond fairly quickly. They had the resources to put other agreements in place. But the Internet is built on the backs of small companies. It is the quintessential garage company industry. And these small companies are no longer going to be able to operate if the replacement agreement, the Privacy Shield, falls away. And so it’s going to become vital that we start to look at surveillance directed at Europeans to make sure that we’re addressing that properly, so we don’t see this agreement also fall away. There’s already two court challenges against it. It’s up for review by the European Commission this summer. And I think it’s going to have a hard time withstanding that.
MacKinnon: Yeah, and one of one things—you’ve worked a lot with various coalitions to advance surveillance reform and privacy of different kinds. And we’ve seen just this week the Email Privacy Act being reintroduced in a very bipartisan way. We’ve been seeing other efforts around surveillance reform and in relationship to encryption that have really involved coalitions from both sides of the aisle, and sort of a range of strange bedfellows from civil society as well and from industry kind of coming together. And I’m wondering if you could comment a bit on sort of, is this a truly non-partisan issue, as it seems? That it’s really you’ve got coalitions of people from all kind of traditional categories coming together, and why do you think that is?
Stepanovich: I really do think you have the nail on the head with that in the report, in saying that this is a non-partisan issue. I don’t think there’s a single issue that I work on in the privacy and surveillance space that we don’t have partners from both sides of the aisle. Now that is not to say that there are not partners are both on the aisle that vehemently disagree with us. But it’s not a matter of a Republican president or a Democratic president in the office that we’re going to see these issues move forward.
I frequently tell people I really have little care about the party in power so long as that party is willing to recognize the human rights issues, the privacy issues, and come to the table on how to deal with those. And so it’s not Republican/Democrat. You can look at Obama’s very mixed record on security and privacy issues just to demonstrate that historically, you know. He had really good things to do on net neutrality, he had good things to do on surveillance, to an extent.
But then he stopped short on surveillance. He wasn’t able to—even though he has a public petition system where he says he will make a statement on any petition that had reached a certain number signatures—I believe it’s been over a year since our petition on encryption reach that threshold and we have no statement. So he wasn’t able to come to the table on encryption. And he stopped short on surveillance. So, good and bad on both sides of the aisle.
MacKinnon: Yeah, and I think people were sort of not clear, had the election gone another way… People who favor strong encryption were not confident that things would have turned out in the way they wanted in any case.
Stepanovich: I think—I mean Hillary Clinton was heard saying that we needed a cyber Manhattan Project or new Manhattan Project to deal with encryption. I think that was not…rhetoric that made people at ease with what her approach to this issue would be. I think that we would have still been having this debate either way. I think we’re going to have to engage.
Luckily there are as I said a lot of arguments in favor of encryption. There are a lot of arguments in favor of surveillance. This is why you have people on both sides of the aisle. So you can put forth there is a human rights argument, there is an economic argument, there is a crime and national security argument. You just have to look at the headlines over the past twenty-four hours to realize that we need encryption from a national security perspective. Because we need to be protecting the people in office and their very sensitive information.
MacKinnon: So, last but not least Ambassador Gross. You know, as I mentioned I first met you in 2005. You were in the Bush Administration working on Internet governance, trying to head an attempt to move the coordination of the Internet’s naming and numbering system from the multistakeholder organization ICANN over to the UN. And you kind of helped to head that off then and were part of the negotiations that formed the Internet Governance Forum and a number of structures that have continued on through then.
And of course, recently this summer and fall we’ve seen debates about the future of ICANN and multistakeholder Internet governance more generally. And while there was a lot of bipartisan support for transitioning the control of the root zone file—we won’t get too technical—for the Domain Name System into a more multi-stakeholder, international control from the Department of Commerce (otherwise known as the IANA transition) and there was a lot of bipartisan support for that. But there was some strong opposition from senator Ted Cruz and backed up at the time by then-candidate Donald Trump.
And of course there’s a lot of work to be done, and in our report we talk about how the transition has happened. There’s all kinds of reasons to support that from a human rights perspective. But there are also… You know, the work is not done. That we need to continue to push for greater accountability in ICANN and in other multistakeholder Internet governance organizations. And what’s your advice? You’ve worked sort of in the private sector more recently since being in the public sector and with people of all parties and from all backgrounds on these issues. What’s your advice to the new administration on how they should move forward on Internet governance and why they should support the frameworks that are currently in place.
David Gross: Sure. Well first of all thank you very much. It’s great to be with friends and colleagues today on what I think is an extraordinarily important, and as has been pointed out, very bipartisan set of issues.
I think I would start off by noting that we’re about a week from inaugural day. And I probably have never been more optimistic about these issues going forward. Now, that’s not to be confused with the challenges, which I think are as great as ever for the reasons that everyone has talked about. However, we have a president coming in to office who seems to have a personal relationship with Internet, and the use of the Internet, for political and other speech, unlike any other political leader we’ve ever had. So if you sort of try to figure out what is really important to the incoming president, there’s obviously lots of things you could look at on all sides to try to divine what’s going on. And undoubtedly there are inconsistencies in various positions that have been taken. But I’d start with the proposition that every single day, multiple times it seems, every day, the President-elect uses the Internet to speak in an unfiltered way—the very value that we seem be saying is extraordinarily important.
So I think we start with the idea—I start with the idea—that we probably have a President-elect who gets it more than most. This is not just an intellectual issue. It’s not just sort of a political issue. But it’s a very personal one for him. And so I think the key as we look ahead is to build upon that and to work on new arguments. I would suggest that for all the reasons that we’ve heard about, a lot of the sort of traditional arguments have been made. And as we see from the Freedom House reports, there’s not a lot of optimism to think that the old arguments are the winning arguments, globally. We have a lot of challenges to have.
So my sense is as we go into a new administration, this is an extraordinarily good time— using the report but looking more broadly—for formulating new arguments. Having negotiated these issues bilaterally and multilateral situations for a good number of years, I’ve come to appreciate that people and governments respond to incentives. What is best for them, what’s best for their people and so forth. No one, whether it’s the United States or any other government, likes to be lectured to and told they must do something because there’s some agreement or some other view about these things.
So what I think we all collectively want to do, and I certainly a interested in doing, is taking a step back and thinking what are those incentives? We’ve heard a lot about how difficult the world is right now. We’ve talked about access. Access is not just, as important as it is, getting new infrastructure out there and the freedom to use that infrastructure. And I would say from my experience the most important part of that are investment incentives. Give people the reason to build and to operate.
But then on top of that, obviously, we need to have people feel comfortable doing it. Goes to some of the points that were made before. If you read the paper every single day and if you’re not on the Internet, if you’re one of the half of the world that doesn’t have broadband today, I don’t know why you would go on it. You rationally look it, you go “Why would I use this thing that I already am not using? Because my personal information’s going to be subject to it. I’m going to be monitored. I’m going to have all sorts of embarrassing things that could happen. Even by people who seem to be sophisticated. So why am I, one of the presumptively less sophisticated half of the world…take a risk?”
We have to address that. What is it? Whether it goes by trust or otherwise, we need to give people a good reason use it. It’s infrastructure. it’s cost, but it’s also the value proposition. And the value proposition also has a value cost to it that we need to address.
So you know, I’m very optimistic that I think there are answers here. But my sense is that the answers are not the old answers. Those who were going to be convinced by the old approach are already convinced. I think we need new thinking, new explanations, new incentives, new understandings, and new approaches.
MacKinnon: That’s really really helpful. And thank you for sort of jarring us out of our usual framings. And I think that’s—
Gross: That’s what I do.
MacKinnon: —an incredibly helpful provocation. To sort of press you a little bit more on Internet governance, and to kind of pick up on this theme of reframing, it does seem also that when it comes to Internet governance whether it’s the arguments that take place here domestically or the arguments that take place globally, that those who are on one side…the same arguments aren’t going to change them and those on the other side aren’t going to be changed by the same arguments, either. So do we need to rethink our arguments for why we need multistakeholder governance as opposed to state-based negotiation? Do we need to rethink the incentives? I mean, it seems to me one of the big arguments is that if you try and do state-based governance of the Internet it just won’t work, because you need buy-in from these other stakeholders in order for it to work because you depend on them for it to work. But that somehow the way the arguments are framed, everybody’s pretty set in their positions. So how do we reframe that?
Gross: Well, I think it actually is very to reframe that. I think this idea of plug and chug, all questions are answered by multistakeholderism, is a very unsatisfactory approach. I think it’s always been that way, but I recognize that sometimes clichés work and sort of shorthand works.
First I would start with the proposition that I don’t know what multistakeholderism is and I don’t think anybody else does, although I will say I probably use the term as much as anybody in the world. But I think people have a tendency to think that multistakeholderism is singular. That it is a thing. It is an approach. It’s not even, I think, an approach but whatever it is, it is extraordinarily flexible. There are Internet-related issues that ought to be decided between governments. And aren’t decided between governments. Now, one would hope that those governments are influenced by their people and by processes. But ultimately, laws are made by governments.
On the other extreme, on technical issues [it’s] hard to think of any legitimate reason why governments ought to be involved at all. It should be left up to those who are technically sophisticated, from a variety of sources, to decide how best to answer technical issues.
And I would quickly add I think one of the concerns I have going forward is that people think about multistakeholders and then roles for governments and others and policymaking with regard to ICANN, I think one of the keys to the successful transition of the IANA is that ICANN does, wants to, and I think it ought to, focus on the technical issues about DNS and stay out as much as humanly possible—not complete but as much as humanly possible—out of the broader policy issues that are best dealt with in other forums. That way you turn down the temperature on the need for governments to try to get involved and to re-look at things like DNS. And by that hopefully we’ll keep other organizations from trying to take over [?] as well.
Rebecca MacKinnon: Great. So we've got a little bit over half an hour left. I think we will open up to the room. I know we have people from a variety of backgrounds, people who've been involved with transitions, people who have experience with multistakeholder organizations in different ways. Andi has a mic. So, would anybody like to begin with a provocation or comment? Bennett Freeman, I have no idea who you are.
Bennett Freeman: As somebody who in his personal life has been a partisan Democrat, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of bipartisan continuity in the new era we're about to enter here. And while many really credit the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State for really forging an innovative far-reaching Internet freedom agenda—and I think rightly so—I recall fully and fondly the origins of that agenda in the previous Bush administration. I recall the work of Under Secretary Dobriansky in particular, Ambassador Gross, and others in really laying the foundation stones for the progress that was then I think fair to say consolidated and accelerated across many many fronts over the last eight years of this now outgoing administration.
My educated guess is that few if any people in the transition are really focused on these issues. The terms of are being discussed here today, my guesses is that they're conflated pretty generally with cybersecurity issues. Of course they're related, but they're distinct sets of issues. I think that there's a real need to maintain continuity at the bureaucratic level. I think that's likely to remain the case until the new political appointees arrive, which probably won't be for many months, until it's warm again outside.
But this is a time for bipartisanship on the Hill. And thanks to efforts of friends like Nilmini in her role on the Hill and many others, there is a constituency among Republicans on the Hill for solid approaches to Internet freedom and global approaches to Internet governance. And I think that we really need to maintain that continuity of support from the Hill through what's going to be a very difficult first year of this administration, and to really get across the idea that Internet freedom can be reconciled with and indeed can be made consistent with national security interests. And if we truly care about countering terrorism and violent extremism, we have to do a better job of supporting civil society and supporting freedom of expression around the world, and Internet freedom is a key way of doing that. And I think that a lot of of Republicans understand that and I look to our Republican friends to help carry the torch here in what will be a challenging time.
MacKinnon: Thank you. Anybody want to respond to that? Nilmini?
Nilmini Rubin: In the Digital GAP Act that was drafted by Ed Royce, a Republican Representative from Southern California, it includes a piece on State Department. Right now, the only person at the State Department confirmed with responsibility over cybersecurity is the Secretary. And there isn't an overarching person responsible for Internet policy. It's in different silos across the State Department. And the bill encourages the creation of an Assistant Secretary for cyberspace. So that person could work across Internet access, Internet freedom, and the other Internet policy issues so that it would be cohesive and that there would be a point person who could come up and continue to engage with the Hill and have that clear Senate-confirmed position when they're engaged with people abroad.
MacKinnon: Any other comments?
Gross: I would say, again I'm an optimist by nature and this is another expression because I think— And I appreciated the historical remembrance, which I think is exactly right. And I think particularly Secretary Clinton did an extraordinarily good job of not only taking what was given but then raising it to another level. Her speeches were extraordinarily important on Internet freedom.
But I think as we think about these things, and as I keep pushing to formulate new thinking in this area—whether it's economic issues, whether it's social issues, whether it's cultural issues globally, one of the great advantages we have is that the issue of Internet freedom is in our DNA as Americans. It is something that almost doesn't have to be explained. The ability to speak, the ability to innovate, the ability to take action, is core to our sense of who we are. And going to your point, Rebecca, about leading by example, I think we should go back to some of these basic concepts and worry less about what people are doing. But if we can be true to our own core principles and our history, and I think our future, other people, other governments, are going to want to follow us because it is in their best interest because will leave them behind. And no one wants to be left behind.
MacKinnon: Anybody else before I go back to the room? Jason.
Jason: Hi. So, I just had a question for the panel picking up on the point in the report about leading sort of by example and with regard to our domestic policy. But to ask the panelists to address something that really wasn't a focus of the report or any of the comments here but that is something that we see in our work at the State Department defending Internet freedom, which is the use of sort of traditional libel laws to stifle speech. It's not a newfangled, sexy, technological approach but it is one of the most consistent and effective ways of chilling speech. And it has been increasingly used vis-à-vis Internet speech and social media contexts specifically.
And this President-elect has, as Ambassador Gross noted, used social media quite effectively but also been quite critical of criticism towards him and his own speech. And so I just want to get the sense of the panel as to sort how… Our approach, obviously in the US we don't criminalize libel at the federal level, which is an important advantage and something we talk about often when we engage with other governments to encourage them not to. At the state level, however, our approaches are not consistent. And I'm curious whether the panel thinks this is—or how the panel thinks that US policy is likely to evolve on the use of courts to try and suppress critical speech—speech critical of governments, specifically. And then what what means for us in terms of our foreign policy.
MacKinnon: Thank you, Jason. Before I turn to the panel, who I know there's some perspectives on, too. But I just can't help but thank you for that point and for that question. And yes, it's a huge concern and it relates to kind of a whole basket of issues beyond what we put in the report on the need for positive global coordination on laws that is supportive of Internet freedom as opposed to the other way round.
And the trend is indeed very troubling. You not only have statements from the President-elect previously during the election about libel and sort of tightening up libel law or whatever exactly the words were that were troubling. But I've also seen comments recently. There was a very prominent professor of philosophy at Princeton who wrote something the other day calling for criminalization of libel law, in order to prevent things like Pizzagate from happening. And that is incredibly dangerous because as those of us who track bloggers and activists and their challenges around the world know, criminal libel laws are used to throw critics of government officials in jail, every day. And so the idea that greater criminalization is being discussed in a positive way here is incredibly troubling to me personally. And and perhaps part of the conversation needs to be about how we make the case—those of us as a community who are concerned about this, how we make the case, how we make the argument that this is absolutely the wrong way to go. But down I know Freedom House has looked a lot at this issue, as have everybody else, so I'll let you respond.
Daniel Calingaert: Yeah I mean, first of all I won't sort of speculate where this is headed. Obviously it's a concern that it has sort of reemerged as an issue here. And particularly concerning because we've seen how it's played out in other countries, including let's say "permissive" permissive libel laws in places like the UK that have had very direct effects on sound investigative journalist reports and books. And when we look globally, about two thirds of Internet users live in countries where there is censorship of some form for criticizing the government or the ruling family. And use of even private libel laws by people in power is a big part of that. And I think pushing back globally, we would encourage local groups and support local groups in pushing back on that and making clear that they as citizens want to be able to speak out and really investigate and make public information about their rulers.
Amie Stepanovich: I'd like to kind of pull out and address the broader point that you're making. Because I think there are many things to potentially be optimistic about over the next four years. I would say one of the things that I am most troubled about are the potential fights on freedom of expression and the potential to really really harm freedom of expression in the United States. And I would add—Rebecca started this with a wonderful definition of Internet freedom, but I would add that the Internet can't really be free unless the users that are most at risk are free. And that's the activists, the journalists, the people who are on the front lines fighting for a lot of the things that [are] encompassed in the rubric of Internet freedom.
And when I think about that, one of the things I cannot help but notice is that the people that the President-elect is choosing to run the government are overwhelmingly privileged. They are very white, they are very male, and they are very upper class. And we're not getting the people in leadership positions in government that have ever been affected by some of the policies that are going to affect the population, including overwhelmingly policies on speech. And I think we need to watch who comes in. If these are going to be the leaders we have—and it is looking very likely that they will all get confirmed—we need to watch who comes in underneath them, and who is employed, and ensure that the fact that there's a news story about how how the State Department was asked to turn over memos on people working on women's issues… That those memos are published and outed and we're talking about who is doing the work in the government. Because if the people who are doing the work are the people who have ever been impacted by these issues, I have a lot more faith that they're going to be dealt with properly than if not.
MacKinnon: Any further responses from the panel or from the room? Kevin.
Kevin Bankston: Thank you. Hi, Kevin Bankston, OTI. One thing that did come up in the report but didn't really come up much in discussion on the panel is the threat of mandatory data localization. And from where I'm sitting I see, I fear, a perfect storm of incentives between privacy regulators thinking they will better protect privacy by forcing localization, local law enforcement and intelligence who want data within closer grasp, incentives to try and artificially sustain competitiveness of local industry against US companies. There seem to be a lot of pointers in that direction, a lot of reasons why countries might want to require localization.
And so I'm curious what are the best counter-forces to that. I think one of them is likely trying to argue for the economic benefit of free flow of information, but I haven't seen a lot of work on that front. The one thing I have seen recently that was chock full of information was an OECD report that came out middle of last year about the social and economic benefits of Internet openness. But other than that I haven't seen a whole lot of work actually trying to quantify and arm people to go and make the economic argument. So I'm curious what it what are the best arrows in our quiver in terms of combating that trend.
MacKinnon: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think Amie, you were talking a bit about sort of the lack of surveillance reform kind of helps to drive pushes by other countries to require localized data. But beyond that, what can we do.
Stepanovich: I think we've seen, over many years, over certainly my entire career, data localization pop up under different justifications. And I think recently the justifications that are being used are the ones that Kevin set out. But this is not our first rodeo on data localization. This has happening many times before for varying reasons. In fact just recently, right after the Snowden revelations, people were saying that they needed to localize data to prevent US surveillance. Which was the argument I probably found most entertaining, because if you put data outside the United States there are many fewer barriers to the US actually collecting and storing that data. So it went against interests to do that.
I, like Kevin, have not seen enough done to quantify the economic impacts of data localization. I think that will be very important. I think it's also continually important to not buy into stop-gap measures to stop data localization that don't actually stop data localization. Much like other issues like encryption where we keep having the same argument again and again and don't reach a point of conclusion because it's very hard to conclude these arguments, if we once again give in, give up on rights— There are discussions of agreements with other countries to stop data localization, such as between the US and United Kingdom to allow direct law enforcement access, that might actually be something that has to happen. It might be a place we need to go. We at Access Now have been vaguely supportive of the umbrella effort.
But at a minimum, that agreement has to come with a promise that they will not force data localization after that agreement is in place. And that's not part of the agreement right now. We can find a way to end these arguments. I think we're in a much better place.
David Gross: Yeah, I would I would say I think you're right. And I'm pleased that you referenced the OECD report, but there's a lot of work to be done. And going back to my initial point about incentives, particularly at the governmental level, at the moment at least, cloud computing, which sort of presupposes a lack of data localization at least to some degree, is clearly extraordinarily important. And it's important for a number reasons, not the least of which is when I would be talking and negotiating with governments, particularly in the developing world, one of the big points that they kept making on a lot of these technical issues was that they were always getting—they had no access to first-generation technology. They always were getting functional hand-me-downs.
Cloud computing actually gives the developing world an opportunity to participate at the same time in basically the same way as the developed world in access to technology in particular and obviously Internet-related technologies. Working out that—understanding that better, explaining that better (assuming it's true and I think it is) is a way of explaining why in the new world, and particularly as we move to 5G and the like, why it's important for those countries to look at these trade-offs (and there are always trade offs in these things) but to come down on the side of trying to have access—broad access—on a global basis, on a cloud basis, to these types of services. And if they don't do it, if they put these artificial restrictions, they're restricting their ability to compete, their people's ability to convene in a global marketplace. And eventually, I think that will become increasingly untenable.
I would quickly note, though, that we ought not to just be against localization for the sake of localization. So, there was a presentation I saw recently by the president of Bell Labs talking about the fact if we go into a 5G world, the need for low latency becomes extraordinarily important. Radically low latency. And radically low latency in his view requires data to be stored very near to the source of whose trying to access it. So the ability to have data stored around the world—halfway around the world—and then be retrievable, which is sort of part of what we think about in the [efficiency?] against data localization, it may actually be the technology starts to push is in a different way and we'll have a new set of challenges.
Stepanovich: I will say if people are looking for more arguments against data localization, we have a post on our website about the human rights impacts of it. And that is of course the angle we come at issues from. But one of the reasons I think that we have broadly opposed data localizations is it has huge human rights implications, and we lay out a lot of those arguments on the Internet.
Rubin: Briefly to David's comments. The new administration has an opportunity to communicate with the benefits to countries to not localize—the economic benefits to not localize—not just through our tech policy people. We engage through USAID with these countries that are making decisions. And we aren't really coordinating our tech policy through our USAID missions. So it's a real great opportunity going forward to make the case, to help communicate the studies. You know, most developing countries aren't members of OECD, because it's…the developed countries. So helping to communicate that information to the developing world is really really helpful.
MacKinnon: I'm looking at my phone not because I'm conducting distracted moderating but because I'm looking at the Twitter stream. And so I'm going to raise one question that came up here, and then we've had some hands, and I'll come to you. But I want to make sure that we bring in people who aren't in the room. A colleague, actually, who's not here named Enrique Piraces asks on Twitter, what can civil society do? What can and should those groups who are represented here in the room and elsewhere be doing to kind of help move this forward, move Internet freedom policy, both of the United States or of other countries that claim to be committed to Internet freedom. What can we do at this moment to move things in the right direction?
And I'm going to use my prerogative to add a second question onto that, which is related. Which is what can the private sector do to help move this along. Because there has been a lot of talk, I think, and a lot of commentary in the press about if governments are going to do the right thing it's all the more important for the private sector to stand up for encryption and privacy and work for the shaping of the Internet in a direction that's compatible with freedom and human rights. So, I'd like to hear from panelists and also any thoughts from anybody else in the in the room, beyond policymakers what what can and should the rest of of us be doing?
Calingaert: Well, I would start, certainly internationally, is build up the civil society expertise and voices in more countries, and particularly where governments are restricting the Internet and in where they're still developing Internet laws. And in many places there is pretty limited expertise. And many of the discussions are really dominated by government and by business. And so there's certainly space for more civil society. And the debates in those countries I think can change significantly so that it's not simply a you know…you give national control over the Internet, or you let American companies and everyone else take advantage of the economic benefits and so on. But you really get citizens saying, "No, we want a free Internet," even in Uganda and China and elsewhere. And I think US policy should support those kinds of initiatives.
Where we've seen, and—you know, the good news—what little good news there is in the Freedom of the Net report—is that in more and more places we're seeing tangible wins, where civil society galvanizes against a restrictive law. And in some places also proactively putting forward sort of affirmative policies to better protect Internet rights. And in many cases the most significant wins are coalitions of local civil society, international civil society, local business, and governments that support freedom.
MacKinnon: Any other thoughts? What should everyone else do?
Stepanovich: I think we need to be looking at very solid, well-grounded arguments from civil society. I think we need to rise above and not get drug through the mud. I think we need to collaborate, coordinate, and above all else be very good allies to one another all over the world. And I think from the private sector we could use maybe some more long-term thinking about how to fix issues that are going to come up three or four or eight years from now. And what they should be involved with to address those issues rather than necessarily the still very significant issues that are coming up this month or next month.
Gross: One thing I would, and add whether it's the private sector or civil society or others, is in formulating the arguments for why these basic core US policies are universal, or ought to be universal, it isn't as if there is a new idea that we haven't thought of that once everyone hears it we'll immediately realize the wisdom of that approach. Instead it's really the opposite. Each argument needs to be customized to the audience. And that's sort of like Advocacy 101. And each government, each country, is different. And using civil society to understand better what are the arguments that might work best in that community would be I think extraordinary helpful to the incoming US administration, to multilateral organizations, and to others to better frame these issues in ways that are both understandable and effective from an advocacy perspective.
MacKinnon: So in other words, whoever is negotiating with whatever government should really be reaching out to civil society in that country and talk to them about messaging and get their advice, listen to their concerns.
Gross: And vice versa. It's a two-way street. Everyone should feel free to communicate. It's easier than ever.
MacKinnon: Just a tweet.
Gross: We're just a tweet away.
MacKinnon: As the President-elect knows well. Speaking of private sector, Mike Nelson from Cloudflare way in the back there. And I know Meg you've had your hand up and there's been some other hands.
Mike Nelson: I'm Mike Nelson and I do public policy for Cloudflare, which is a web security company in San Francisco. Just to add thirty seconds on this question you ask about what technology companies in the private sector can do. A lot of us are trying to deploy better technologies that do protect people better. And so in the last year and a half we've doubled the number of web sites around the world that use HTTPS so their users are protected by encryption. We also do something called Project Galileo, which is protecting dissidents and controversial bloggers around the world from their own governments, who sometimes DDoS them and try to knock them offline.
My question though, to build on the very interesting question about libel law, is are there other laws that we should be watching out for, and in particular should we look at the abuse of copyright law? I was just in Guadalajara with several of you and heard a heartrending story from bloggers in Ecuador who are being knocked off their hosting companies around the world because the Ecuadorian government has copyrighted the president's face and trademarked the logo that is on every Ecuadorian government document. So anytime somebody exposes corruption in the Ecuadorean government, they are violating DMCA. And the Ecuadorian government has a European law firm that will go out and go after the hosting companies and shut up these dissidents who are trying to get the word out about what's going on down there.
MacKinnon: Yeah. I mean, there are so many different laws that are problematic, and your example with copyright law being one of many. Which kind of brings us to trade agreements and sort of copyright-related issues within trade agreements. But just also sort of relates to this cross-border coordination…a kind of broad overarching recommendation, which is that we need to coordinate when it comes to copyright laws or trade agreements that are trying to unify copyright approaches, that their impact on Internet freedom be evaluated and understood, and that we not be advocating for things or helping…kind of provide incentives for other governments to put in place laws and implement laws in such a way that were were harming freedom of expression. But I think there's a number of…
Gross: I would caution—because obviously the example that Mike just gave sounds pretty horrific and I don't know the details, but I assume that that's all right. But also when I've been talking to private sector, civil society particularly, and other governments, copyright plays an important role for monetizing their access to the Internet. So we need to be very cautious… These are complicated issues, we all recognize. But copyright and intellectual property protection is often the way in which the developing world sees their ability to preserve their culture, to be able to monetize. Whether it's theater, songs, music, film and the like, to be able to express themselves in a global way and to monetize it. So it's a very complicated set of issues, as Mike knows very well.
MacKinnon: Yeah, I think the point is not to say we shouldn't have copyright law but rather this is one of many really complicated sets of cross-border legal issues that needs to be handled in a way that's mindful of the human rights and Internet freedom issues, in addition to all the other issues. We only have a few more minutes and I know we have a hard stop at eleven. Meg, you had your hand up for a long time, and I apologize we won't be able to get to everybody. And I know Nilmini you still want to say something, so we'll give you a chance to do that. But Meg, what was your comment?
Meg: Sure. First of all, thanks to Rebecca, to the panel, and to New America for the leadership that you've shown on this issue in today's discussion, which is really timely. I wanted to pick up on Ambassador Gross' challenge to all of us to think creatively and optimistically about where we are and where we need to go.
I do think that for people who don't live in this space day to day, the debate has become quite challenging to follow, and it's very hard to connect the dots. There's significant work being done. It's very sophisticated, very important. But I think the point Ambassador Gross makes to us today is a really important one, which is that both in the Bush administration and Hillary Clinton's work there was a broad vision of the Internet laid out. And it was a abroad and compelling vision, but perhaps at this moment not specific enough.
Again I would challenge everybody in the room to rethink along the three lines that have been advanced here. What exactly, if we were to step back today and say "This is the Internet we want for these purposes," what then exactly does that mean? And then relate the various very specific arguments to that, and constantly do that. So there'd be three areas where that would be important.
One of course is that in all of these cases, what comes up is that the Internet has become core to the human experience now. For lack of an alternative, it is the default public square. Whether we can access it or not, that is the reality in which we now live. And so just in this country, what does that mean in terms of basic citizenship and basic literacy? We've really not done very much about that. Most kids know how to use the technology, but they're woefully ignorant about all of the citizenship issues that flow from that, and responsible use, and activism and engagement.
And I think turning it around to the current moment, it speaks to the challenge not just in this country but around the world. Which is that the election results really speak to disengagement. There's a significant part of the population around the world that feels completely disengaged from the policy debate. So I would posit that one vision of the Internet about that civic space is about rethinking how to make sure that people across the spectrum feel the ability to be connected with their government to solve problems. And again, that goes to Ambassador Gross' point about that'll look different in different countries. But putting aside the very real challenges we face, all governments at some level need to transact business with their society and do it in an efficient manner. They want some ability to engage. So that is the way in which this vision can speak at a core level to those concerns.
The second is the economic opportunity—
MacKinnon: Meg, I'm really sorry to cut you off. It's 10:59.
Meg: Okay. Just two quick points—
MacKinnon: We have to end in one minute, and I want to give people a chance to say something up here before we end.
MacKinnon: So maybe we can kind of continue the discussion afterwards.
Meg: Sure. Just to add just two quick points—
MacKinnon: Just in one sentence.
Meg: Economic opportunity, what is the role of technology to meet that, and how could private sector be more active. And the third on national security again, if our security is now principally in cyberspace, what is the vision there? What does that look like? Again reframing those in a positive way [crosstalk] around a positive agenda.
MacKinnon: Thanks. Yeah, no that's really helpful on the framing. I know Nilmini, we didn't give you a chance to speak in the last round, so I'll come to you next and see if anybody else has closing thoughts they want to say. And then I'm under orders to really not let this panel go beyond, or much beyond, eleven. So.
Rubin: I'll be super quick. Kind of connecting the dots between that and the last one, there's a lot that civil society and the private sector can do. I think the most important thing is to be really clear to policymakers on what you want. I think that policymakers get overwhelmed with information, especially ones that are not spending their entire days doing tech policy. So really explaining clearly—and it's not dumbing it down, but it's making accessible to people who are dealing with thousands of issues. And that's true here in the US and abroad.
I wanted to recognize that civil society and the private sector is doing a lot of work. So it's not that they aren't doing anything, but it's definitely more… I wanted to push back on one thing that Ambassador Gross said. I think it's true in the US, some people who are not online, they're choosing not to be online. But the major inhibitant to not being online in the rest of the world is cost. And the Alliance for Affordable Internet has done really great studies on really that when the costs come down more people come online. And the private sector is doing great work on bringing down the cost by expanding Internet, but a lot more could be done.
MacKinnon: Thanks. And just quickly, Sarah Morris here, her work here at OTI also deals with some cost barriers even here in the United States that for at least some communities are not in insignificant. But quickly, any other final closing final words?
Stepanovich: I had a really awesome JJ Abrams analogy that I was going to use to answer your question, but I'm going to just leave it as a teaser. [crosstalk] You don't get that.
MacKinnon: As a teaser. You can all Google it.
Stepanovich: But you guys should all come help us continue this conversation of RightsCon in Brussels at the end of March.
MacKinnon: Very good idea. Go to, what is it, rightscon.org?
MacKinnon: It's a good conference. Thank you very much for coming. We could've continued obviously for much longer. And I really appreciate that you're here and not watching the livestream of Tillerson's hearing. So thank you.
A #Netfreedom Agenda for the 45th POTUS event page at the New America site