How the Trump administration can promote a free global internet
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After the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee, policymakers rightly pointed out the need for quicker and more decisive U.S. responses to digital intrusions to better deter future attacks.

But U.S. interests in the internet extend well beyond cyber-defense. The incoming Trump administration should counter the efforts of China, Russia and others to control the online space and pursue a comprehensive agenda to advance America's vision of the internet as an open, globally interconnected platform.

American values and interests face three major threats online.

First, the volume of private data, about every aspect of our lives, is growing exponentially but is often poorly protected.

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Second, terrorists, propagandists and purveyors of fabricated news are taking advantage of the online space to undermine democracy.

 

Third, because citizens use the internet to expose corruption, document human rights abuses and mobilize political action, authoritarian governments restrict online freedom, and their controls are rapidly growing in reach and sophistication.

Two-thirds of all internet users now live in countries where criticism of the government, military or ruling family is censored, and governments are increasingly arresting citizens for social media posts and blocking messaging apps.

The Trump administration should address these broader threats, because they undermine both American values and U.S. interests. The free flow of information and data is critical for citizens in the United States and around the world to exercise their fundamental rights, and it expands opportunities for U.S. business.

American companies dominate the technology market in much of the world, and this dominance rests heavily on internet freedom. Internet controls, in China and elsewhere, put U.S. business at a disadvantage. Blocks on messaging apps disrupt the services of American companies, and censorship limits the access of American content producers and social media platforms to foreign markets.

Protection of data privacy requires both the U.S. government and the private sector to step up cybersecurity while respecting the rights of internet users. The U.S. government should allow end-to-end encryption, consistent with the legitimate needs of counterterrorism and law enforcement, and should not demand a back door into digital communications. A back door would undermine confidence around the world in American technology products and services.

The U.S. government should rebuild confidence by making its surveillance practices more transparent and raising data protection standards.

To curb violent extremist content, propaganda and fabricated news online, U.S. policymakers should encourage greater efforts by companies rather than legislate limitations on free speech. Companies should continue to remove violent extremist content under their terms of service and move ahead with plans to label false news or reduce its exposure in news feeds and web searches.

U.S. policy should respond to propaganda abroad by expanding balanced, fact-based news media, including U.S. foreign broadcasting and support for quality journalism abroad — for example, by providing training on investigative reporting.

The U.S. response to the proliferation of internet controls around the world similarly should emphasize support for local efforts to defend freedom. Local activists in Nigeria, Pakistan and elsewhere are pushing back on internet restrictions and pressing their governments to respect the right to free expression online. These efforts merit U.S. assistance.

The U.S. government should also incorporate internet freedom provisions into new trade agreements and challenge internet censorship as a trade barrier limiting the access of U.S. companies to foreign markets.

A free and open internet is fundamental to U.S. interests in the world and American values — commerce, innovation, social interaction, and political engagement — but it is coming increasingly under strain. The Trump administration will need to put in place and pursue a broad policy agenda to preserve the internet's benefits and potential for the United States going forward.

Daniel Calingaert is executive vice president of Freedom House.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.