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U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh

On Internet Freedom

 At the French Senate

October 19, 2011

Paris, France


Merci beaucoup.  Je vais parler en anglais.

I want to thank the Center for European Studies and the Fondation Robert Schuman for hosting this timely event.  I also want to congratulate the authors on the release of their study.  It lays out very nicely the challenges that I’d like to discuss today of how do we find a way to respect our values, for example, freedom of speech, privacy, intellectual property, security, in a way that allows us to truly realize the benefits of the Internet.  And I’d like to make three points about this if I may. 

First, it’s essential for us to solve this problem in a way that preserves the openness of the Internet.  If we don’t, we run the risk of denying ourselves and the world a powerful tool for innovation and expression.  And this has been discussed, but I’ll just give you some data that McKinsey released when they were here in France for the eG-8.  They say that the Internet has generated as much growth over the past 15 years as the industrial revolution generated in 50 years.  The Internet has been responsible for 21 percent of the growth in mature economies over the past 5 years and it has created 2.6 jobs for every one job it has displaced. 

And that’s just on the economic side.  Obviously the Internet also gives us a platform for learning, debate, and social change.  Its power to generate innovation is rivaled only by its potential to help people realize their rights and democratic aspirations.  The Internet is so powerful in part because no centralized authority governs it and no nation owns it.  You don’t need permission to share ideas or associate with others around the globe.  Instead, a decentralized system of public and private actors collaborates to ensure its function and expansion.  What this means is that nations that choose to take a heavy-handed approach to regulating the Internet can reduce its value for every other nation and user. 

The second point I’d like to make is that, although very often our countries focus on the differences in how we honor the values that we’re discussing today, I would like to argue that it is essential that we democracies that share these values find common norms for how we’re going to approach these, because the openness of the Internet is so important.  Iran’s recent announcement, that it plans to disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world, was a recent dramatic sign that the Internet is really at risk, if we look beyond our democracies, of being carved up into national mini Internets, each with its own rules and restrictions.  Iran, Syria, and other countries that we might call “cyber autocracies”, deny their citizens their right to express themselves, seek and receive information, and freely associate. 

And then around the world people are coming online for the first time and their governments are very cautious about this new force and the multi-stakeholder, open approach.  They too may look for a heavy-handed solution if we don’t agree on some norms and start to talk to them about the fact that yes, we can have respect for all of these values online.  We have a responsibility to work together on this and to show them that together we can imagine a future for the Internet that respects the principles that are the foundations for a free, open, and secure society online.  We’ve honored these time-tested principles in our societies off-line even if our ways of implementation may differ.  And now if we work together, open and transparently, to show the world that we will uphold them just as successfully online as well. 

Third point: it is for this reason that the United States is committing to building a global consensus around the benefits of an open, interconnected Internet.  This May president Obama issued the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace.  Secretary Clinton has a groundbreaking Internet freedom agenda, and she has called for the global community to join us in the bet we have made, a bet that an open Internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries.  And again, I just want to stress that when Secretary Clinton talks about this, when she says an open Internet, she’s not saying that we should have different values on the Internet than we have offline, but that we have to find a way to take these values that we have offline and respect them online. 

One way that we have been pushing the establishment of some common norms is that the U.S. supported a gathering of senior government officials and stakeholders at the OECD in June here in Paris for committing to Internet policy-making principles.  We felt that the OECD was the right place to do this work because it is a place that invites key stakeholders to come together to agree on just these kinds of norms.  After intensive conversations, the OECD issued a communiqué highlighting commitments to a set of 14 principles.  And these principles include things like:

  • Promote and protect the global free flow of information
  • Promote the open, distributed, and interconnected nature of the Internet
  • Co-operate in multi-stakeholder policy development processes
  • Ensure transparency
  • Promote creativity and innovation, in which we discussed intellectual property
  • And limit Internet intermediary liability

The 34 member countries of the OECD all signed on as did Egypt.  Also the Internet technical community and business community.

So in conclusion, I’d just like to say we have a lot to debate, but we also have a common project.  Our Internet foreign policy will require continuing to build support for the Internet policy principles with governments, business, and civil society.  We will need to work together with other countries to demonstrate that the principles work.  We believe that the stakes are high but that these principles that were adopted here are an important tool to help us achieve these objectives.

Thank you.



About the U.S. Mission to the OECD

The United States is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is an international organization, composed of 34 democratic countries with market-based economies. Shared goals include achieving sustainable economic growth and employment and a rising standard of living in member countries as well as engaging with non-members to contribute to the development of the world economy. Through its cross-country economic research, “soft law,” and effective peer reviews, the OECD is a dynamic international incubator for new ideas, providing the United States an opportunity for engaging with other countries on economic policy.

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