This week, the Biden Administration is hosting the 2021 Summit for Democracy. The summit will bring together leaders from democratic governments around the world to share specific ideas about “the challenges and opportunities facing democracies.” As the premier advocate of the global technology industry, we see this week’s meetings as an opportunity for both governments and civil society to come together in support of a digital future that prioritizes open, non-discriminatory digital markets in order to counter digital authoritarianism.
The cross-border movement of data and information and communications technology (ICT) goods and services is fundamental to enabling robust democratic engagement in the digitalized global economy. However, many governments – both democratic and authoritarian – are advancing a range of policies that restrict the movement of information, goods, and services under the guise of data protection, data sovereignty, cybersecurity, government access to data, or industrial policy.
Such policies, which may mandate the localization of data or enable internet shutdowns or blocking, are often based on the flawed premise that data restrictions and digital protectionism are necessary to achieve policy objectives; however, how data is protected is more important to security than where it is stored, and digital trade restrictions often result in weaker, not stronger protections, while posing threats to core democratic values. Moreover, digital policies designed to advantage the world’s largest protected and authoritarian markets are inspiring comparable policy development in developing and well-established democracies, undermining economic and sustainable development goals and fragmenting the global internet.
ITI therefore strongly supports the Summit for Democracy’s focus on “Open and Resilient Digital Space,” which acknowledges the essential nature of open digital markets in promoting values- and risk-based public policy objectives, facilitates broad-based economic inclusion and development, and counters digital policy measures that enable greater state control of the internet.
Recognizing the key role of the digital economy, we call on participating democratic governments to affirm their support for open digital markets, including through support for and reliance on consensus-based, international standards, the rule of law and due process with regard to online services, and their opposition to digital authoritarianism, protectionism, and efforts to undermine and interfere with digital access and accessibility.
Building on initial discussions at the Summit for Democracy Day Zero event, ITI encourages participating governments to develop a series of public-private sector engagements to explore international best practices in the promotion of transparent, resilient, competitive, and open digital markets. Individual engagements could center on one or multiple facets of data and technology governance and/or good regulatory practices.
In addition, should the U.S. government partner with like-minded governments to further a positive agenda for the future of the internet, it should respect efforts taking place in forums like the G7, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Importantly, any such effort must seek to advance open, non-discriminatory policies based on rigorous, objective criteria with proportionate and well-justified obligations accompanied by appropriate due process guarantees for businesses and individuals.
In the year of work to follow this week’s meetings, ITI stands ready to partner with governments to advance the objectives of the Summit for Democracy through the promotion of principles, rules, and investments that prioritize equitable digital access and trade in support of workers, innovators, and consumers, and promote data privacy and security as fundamental human rights.