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 You are in: Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs > Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs > All Remarks and Releases > Remarks > 2003

Briefing on World Summit on the Information Society

David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
Washington, DC
December 3, 2003

(11:00 a.m. EST)

I expect to see that continue as the documents get finalized. The issue, really, I think, is to some degree, ensuring that the focus really is on that freedom of expression, and that people understand the importance of it. And we would also add to that, we believe it's important to reaffirm the importance of media as an aspect, but an independent aspect, of freedom of expression.

We think that that is key -- one of the key elements to the information society as we envision it, and we think others should as well.

QUESTION: But there isn't going to be any follow-up mechanism, or is there?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: Yes. Let me finish one other thought --


AMBASSADOR GROSS: -- and then I will, I will get to that. The other thing you should be aware of is that both as a reflection of our strong views on this subject, as you can well imagine, and is well understood throughout the world our very strong views on the subject, as well as other areas, that we are prepared -- because it's not unusual, in fact, it's fairly standard practice -- that statements be appended to any of these types of, particularly, Declarations of Principles and the like, explaining views that are, that are particular to our Administration, either views of the language if it might be less than clear, perhaps, and the like.

And we are certainly prepared, and I don't mean this at all as an area of concern, but rather, we're prepared to make sure that our views are clear through a separate statement or otherwise, perhaps, through Dr. Marburger's speech or otherwise.

I think people will not be confused where we are on that and we, we think, as I said, we feel confident we're not alone in that view. So I think we'll be able to be successful in making it clear that our view, which may not be universally agreed to, but our view is really quite, quite strong and on that issue. I'm sorry, yeah.

QUESTION: And my other question was, will these countries who approve it then be signing up to a commitment that could then be checked by some UN method?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: Yes, but I don't want to be too sanguine about that. As I said, these are not legally binding documents. They really are agreements. They're very important agreements, we take it very, very important -- very, very seriously, because they are important.

Having said that, there are actually a number -- in fact, an unusual ability to follow up here, both through the fact that we will have approximately two years before the next phase in Tunis. And so there will be lots of opportunities for each administration and for international organizations and others to look and see what has happened as a result of whatever is agreed to at this phase of the summit and report out in whatever way that they think is reasonable and appropriate at the second phase in November.

So I think, unlike other summits where the follow-through is, of course, something that people struggle with, here there is a very natural and very easy process that I think that will unfold. And that's even apart from all the normal processes, which is, of course, people have tremendous interest in this area, regardless, and, of course, just because -- whether or not you have a second phase of a particular summit, parties will be very free, and particularly in these issues, very open in terms of their ability to share their views of whether or not people are living up to what they agreed to.

QUESTION: On the issue of the cyber-security, if you could expand on that a little bit in terms of where the document is headed. I mean, is it headed toward something as specific as saying that nations should develop a legal regime with provisions X, Y and Z to cooperate across borders with other agencies that are investigating this, or is it more general, or where is that part of the document headed?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: There is actually a lot of activity in this area. There's activity up at the United Nations in New York. I expect and hope to see a paragraph or so in the Declaration and perhaps something in the Plan of Action that will address these issues of cyber-security. And I think, to date, we’ve been very pleased with the progress that's being made internationally in that area.

So it's an area that still is being worked on, but I would say that there is a lot of consensus around the core principles that we care about there, which is this culture of cyber-security, making sure that countries -- that there's capacity building for countries to be able to criminalize those activities that occur within their borders that I think most people think ought to be found unlawful, and, similarly, to work internationally to communicate between administrations and law enforcement, generally, to track down people who are acting in ways that are unlawful.

QUESTION: Can you specify any more about the background on that issue? I mean, we all remember that the celebrated case of the virus that was invented in the Philippines and the Filipinos had no law.


QUESTION: I mean, how many nations have updated their legal regimens in that regard, and will this process serve as more of a nudge?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: I think the answer is yes to both those things. First of all, we do seek this to be, in fact, frankly, more than a nudge, but, rather, sort of a very serious reminder, which is always necessary in any of these processes to go forward.

Many countries, including our own, have been updating and changing their laws so that it reflects the realities of the cyber-world that we now live in. There have been a lot of activity -- for example, you mentioned the Philippines. There has been tremendous activities in this area in -- through OPIC -- or, through APEC, I'm sorry, which is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperative. A lot of capacity building being done there. We've seen a lot of progress being made in those countries. The same is, of course, true in Europe, and basically throughout the world we've seen very substantial progress.

Having said that, of course, there is always a lot of work still to be done, and I anticipate that that work is going to be a continuing series of work to be done. As the nature of the threats change, so too laws have to always be revised to make sure that we are properly focused on these things.


QUESTION: A quick follow-up about the discussions on cyber-security. The Administration, finally, after two years after its completion, sent the Cyber Crime Treaty of the Council of Europe, Cyber Crime Treaty, over to Congress. Was that done in anticipation of this, so that we can essentially claim that we've taken our steps, too?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: No, I would say that it's fair to say that these actions are independent of each other.

QUESTION: And on the -- does your optimism on freedom of expression include the removal of the phrase -- or maybe it's already been taken out -- leaving media freedom to national laws?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: No, that's a somewhat separate but obviously related issue and it's a source of substantial controversy, controversy which we, of course, are a part of in the sense that we are always concerned about statements that might be misunderstood as sanctioning restrictions either on freedom of expression or on the freedom of the press. And so there is very serious negotiations still going on to sort of summarize -- in that area.

To summarize it, there is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted at the United Nations back in the '40s, both in Article 19, what we believe is a very clear and a very important statement on freedom of expression. There is another article in that same document, Article 29, which refers to things such as community values and laws and things of that nature.

And we believe that those concepts are compatible with each other, of course. We all live in a world of laws. But we don't think that people should misunderstand the import of Article 29 as it relates to Article 19. We do not view Article 29 as in some way in balance with Article 19.

I realize I may be getting a little bit technical here, in terms of the articles. But, basically, we view the issue of the fact that people always need to live in a rule of law as not being particularly focused on the issues of freedom of expression, role of the media, and the like.

Now, we recognize and we're always vigilant, try to be vigilant, to make sure that parties don't try to move those two and to somehow be viewed as being related to each other in some fashion, and we're working with the documents to try to make that as clear as possible.

Okay. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: I was just going to ask, is this the -- is this the first such world summit?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: It is the first world summit that is focused on what's euphemistically called the Information Society, yes. There have been, of course, a whole series of summits focusing on issues that, for which there is some relationship. For example, I think many people, quite reasonably, view this summit as a development-focused summit, that is, using technology to help in the developing world, particularly, although it clearly has import for everyone.

In that regard, of course, there has been a whole series of development-related summits over the past few years. So the answer is, yes, but probably with a bit of an explanation.


AMBASSADOR GROSS: Is that helpful?



QUESTION: There has been some talk about setting up a separate fund to help developing countries bring their systems up -- up to more -- at the higher standards.


QUESTION: And the U.S., as I understand it, has not been particularly in favor of that. Is that the current thinking now, as well, and what alternatives are you offering, as suggestions for how to fund increased and improved technology?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: Yeah. There have been suggestions by a number of very serious actors. President Wade of Senegal, for example, is articulating -- he is a very thoughtful person -- on these issues, and he has suggested the idea of a voluntary digital solidarity fund. We think that it is an interesting concept, and we think it ought to be looked at carefully, but we do not endorse it right now, even in its voluntary form, because we're concerned about how these things play out.

Having said that, our concerns about such a fund include open issues about how it would be -- how the funds would be gathered, how it would be administered, who would be the recipients of these sorts of funds. We think that the path forward really is in a somewhat different direction, not necessarily inconsistent, but different direction.

One is that, in order to try to help countries in the developing world build their infrastructure, we think that they need to focus on, first, on their domestic laws to be committed to the rule of law, to be committed to private enterprise and the sorts of things that are clearly the basis for sustainable development in that area. The idea that any country can receive what traditionally has been viewed as sort of foreign aid to build a system that then would operate in some sophisticated way is, we think, not very accurate and not very helpful. What we're interested in, I think everyone is interested in, is sustainable development in this area, as in many other areas.

So we in the United States, for example, have very active support programs for countries that have -- that need support and have made those necessary first steps towards regulatory rules, rule-of-law, private-sector-led, and the like so that it's sustainable -- Senegal being one of them. The President announced about a year or so ago something called the Digital Freedom Initiative, the DFI, in which we provide capacity support to countries. Senegal was, in fact, the very first country that received that support. It's a program administered by a combination of USAID, the Department of Commerce, Peace Corps, and we play a role here at the State Department as well.

We just recently announced two new countries that have just been added as a result of the leaders meeting at APEC. The two new countries that have just been added to that program are Peru and Indonesia. So that process has just begun.

QUESTION: So the U.S. position is that there shouldn't be any funding attached to the summit and the declaration; is that what you would prefer?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: At this phase of the summit, we don't think that the case has been made for the creation of a new international fund focusing on these issues in the way in which it's been described so far. We do think it's important for individual countries, like the United States, to actively support those countries that are doing the right things.

And we do that, as I say, both through the Digital Freedom Initiative, which is a new program; USAID has a very active program; the FCC, our Federal Communications Commission, provides a lot of capacity building in the developing world for their regulators as they evolve, and so forth.

We have a tremendous amount. We probably do more -- we certainly do more than any other individual country in the developing world to help build their capacity.

And, of course, you know, we want to encourage that for many, many reasons, but we think that ultimately, you need to have the necessary legal regime, regulatory regime in place in order to attract the foreign investment that then creates that infrastructure. That's really the key, the path forward, for doing this in a sustainable way. And we have worked very closely and look forward to working with other countries very closely to do that.

We think it's -- the goal is undoubtedly extraordinarily important. What we are in active discussions is the best method to get there, and at least, to date, we're not convinced that the solidarity fund, as it's been articulated so far, is the best way to get there.

But we're willing to talk and have been talking to those countries that do advocate that as to, we think, maybe looking at that, trying to understand better what those concerns are. And, in fact, along those lines, we think that one of the things highlighted by this discussion is that, to some degree, there may have been an unfortunate disconnect between those countries that seek, reasonably, to get foreign assistance in this area, and those countries who are seeking to provide that foreign assistance, that somehow they sometimes talk past each other.

And we think that perhaps there can be opportunities through this discussion to have meetings, perhaps between the two phases of the summit, to work on those issues, to try to make sure that we marry those countries that are doing the right things the right way and deserve support, and those countries that are seeking to support those sorts of things.

QUESTION: And you think the UN is a proper body to work on that?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: I don't think it necessarily has to be the UN, although the UN, of course, has affiliated entities that do that sort of work today. For example, the International Telecommunications Union, which is a specialized agency of -- an affiliated entity of the UN, does a lot of work in the developing world providing technical expertise. UNDP, for example, provides a lot of support in this area as well. UNESCO provides a lot of support.

So there's a lot of activity. I don't want anybody to misunderstand. Clearly, though, there is always opportunities for further discussion and further help, and I say, trying to make sure that we're doing the right -- addressing the right issues the right way is something which we're always looking for. And that's part of this idea of the digital solidarity fund was, in part, to address that issue.


QUESTION: Internet governance is another issue that -- you know, who oversees the Internet and the domain name system, the names, especially of country codes, country names like -- I don't know -- dot CA for Canada, or something.

Currently, there is the body in Los Angeles called "iCan," and as I understand it, the U.S. supports iCan as -- you know, I know that you prefer that iCan remain essentially the oversight body. But developing countries are clamoring for, at this summit, as far as I can tell, from those that I've spoken with, for something greater than iCan, that's not so California-specific, and not so developed country-specific that can -- that can take care of their needs, address their needs on the Internet.

How will you keep that debate from coming to the fore and overtaking really anything -- everything else that's going on here, and where does it stand now?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: Yeah. It's a very interesting discussion. And, frankly, I've learned a lot through this process about the concerns of many countries about these issues.

You're right. There is a lot of discussion about this. We think that -- that iCan has in place input, and opportunities for input, from governments on these technical issues. They have something called the GAC, G-A-C, which is the Government Advisory Committee, that is designed to have governments provide their input into the things that iCan is working on.

And, as you know, the Department of Commerce, I believe, just re-signed or signed a new MOU with iCan, which I think lasts for the next three years or so.

I think there is often a misunderstanding and a misconception about exactly who does what in -- with regard to the Internet. And that seems perfectly understandable because it's hard to really get a handle on all the moving pieces.

Billy, of course, you were correct in identifying that iCan does a lot of the top-level domain name allocations, and things of that nature. And I think iCan has been making progress in trying to encourage input from other -- from countries, either through the GAC. My understanding is that they are opening up offices in a number of countries in the developing world to make it easier for information to flow both ways, get information as they make policy, and then, similarly, to make sure that countries and individuals know what those -- what those rules of the game are.

In addition, I would note that although it is a not-for-profit California company, the President is in Australia. So, clearly, there has been a strong -- continues to be a strong interest and effort to internationalize in that regard that whole process.

Having said that, those are fairly technical issues associated with it. And so, when you hear people refer to Internet governance, I'm somewhat -- and then, in the same breath, talk about iCan, for example, I'm never quite sure exactly what it is that people are trying to focus on, and necessarily what the issues are. Is it where route -- you know, route servers are located? Is it having to do with network architecture? Is it the top-level domain names or is it something else? And I think as people start to understand these things a little bit better that the nature of their issues will start to change.

I think it's really important though, as I have been thinking about these issues, and I've been struck by them, there is a “forest for the trees” piece of this that I think is really interesting -- at least it is for me, I don't know if it's interesting for anybody else -- and that is, the nature of the discussion we're having has changed dramatically.

It is a remarkable, and I think a remarkably good thing, that the world, including the developing world, is focusing so much on technical issues such as the importance of Internet top-level domain names, how they're allocated, Internet governance, however you describe it, because what that really reflects is that a remarkable change has taken place just over the past few years.

The Internet, which was once viewed as something, basically, used primarily in the United States, or primarily by the scientific community, or primarily by well-educated people, or primarily this, that or the other thing, has exploded in a way that now is viewed by almost everyone in the world, by almost every government of the world, as being an extraordinarily important component of their future.

That's something which we, as a government, have been promoting for a long period of time. It is an extraordinarily powerful and positive development. And the reason it's so powerful and positive is because we believe, of course, that this technology offers up opportunities that are unprecedented for economic prosperity, particularly in the developing world.

Countries are no longer necessarily limited to their geography and to their history, but they're tied now to the rest of the world in opportunities. It has opportunities for education for their people. It has opportunities for increasing democratic values by allowing people to communicate with each other.

And so, the fact that everyone now, including our friends in the developing world, focus on Internet governance as a reflection of their view that Internet is so important to their future, is a reflection of something, I think, extraordinarily positive that has happened over just the past few years, and something, which I think is often overlooked in our viewing of and concern about the details, which maybe to bring it full circle, since it looks like I'm running out of time here, means, means that that's why the summit's important, because the summit really is focusing on those sorts of issues -- those sorts of issues being the fundamental importance of the use of technology to better people, either democratically, socially, and economically.

QUESTION: But, but what in the room -- where does the issue stand in the room at this time?


QUESTION: Where does the issue of Internet government stand sort of in the negotiation? Is it simply trying to stonewall?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: No. We'd never stonewall, of course not.

It is -- the nature of the language, of course, there's a lot of discussion about the language, and there's a lot of -- what that really is, what I'm really saying there is there's a lot of discussion of what the appropriate path forward ought to be. That includes which organizations should be part of the discussions -- how those discussions should be organized, by whom, with whom.

We view it, we view -- sort of the bottom line is, we welcome a discussion with all stakeholders, whether they be governments, private sector, civil society, corporations. We think everyone has an important -- should have an important say in the matter. Having said that, we believe, as a core principle, that the process forward should be private sector-led because we think that it is such a dynamic space, constantly changing, that governments, by their nature, will not be able to keep up with the changing technology and the changing aspects, but rather, would be just more reactive.

And so we think it's extraordinarily important that it continue to be private sector-led, but that is not at all inconsistent with an appropriate role by governments recognizing that they are important stakeholders in the process.

Okay. Great. Thank you very much. Thank you.


MR. CASEY: Okay, good morning, everyone. Welcome back, I hope, to the State Department briefing room. Pleasure to be here with you this morning, and I'd like to present to you our speaker, Ambassador David Gross, who will be the senior U.S. representative to the World Information Summit in Geneva next week. He's going to talk to you a little bit about U.S. positions going into the summit and then answer some of your questions.

And with that, Ambassador Gross.

AMBASSADOR GROSS: Thank you very much. And I'm comfortable handling this however you all would like. I thought it might be useful if I give you just a little bit of background on the summit and then open up for any Qs and As.

The summit was originally conceived back in 1998 and was then adopted and set for two phases. It is an unusual UN heads-of-state summit in a number of respects. One, and perhaps most notably because it is going to be held in two phases -- I believe it's the first time the UN has held a summit in two phases -- the first phase is in Geneva next week, December 10-12, and then the second phase is scheduled to be in Tunisia, in Tunis, in November of '05.

And so that, having a two-phase summit creates lots of opportunities and lots of challenges for everyone, and those are the challenges we are grappling with right now.

We've been -- we are at the, basically, the end of the preparatory process for the first phase. That preparatory process has been going on for about two years and has involved a series of meetings where the countries of the world get together and discuss a number of things, but particularly two -- the creation of two documents. And these are a traditional two documents that are often done at summits. One is a Declaration of Principles and the second is a Plan of Action.

We are still in the process of negotiating those documents. I leave tonight to go back to Geneva to work on those two documents. There are preparatory meetings scheduled for both Friday and Saturday, both scheduled to go until midnight each night to try to hammer out final documents there.

There is, of course, no guarantee there will be final documents, but we hope and expect that there will be, and are working very, very hard with others to make sure that that happens.

As you can imagine, these documents are, on the one hand, very important documents. On the other hand, they are not legally binding documents, and that has import in a number of different areas, and is often something I have found is sort of misunderstood about the process.

I'd be happy to take any questions you have about particular issues that are being grappled with and U.S. positions about those issues. But let me maybe say that there are sort of three core pillars that we have focused on throughout this process.

The first are issues associated with infrastructure development. Since we think that the primary focus of the meeting ought to be on the development -- the developing world and developmental-related issues, we think it's important to focus on some of the elements of successful infrastructure development, things such as commitment to the private sector, rule of law, and the like, so that countries can attract the necessary private investment to create the infrastructure, whether it's telephony infrastructure or internet, or the like.

Second is content creation. The Information Society, however you view that term, means, of course, at its core, knowledge or information. And so we want to work on issues to help promote the creation of content. We think that being committed to intellectual property rights, so as to promote and give economic incentives for the promotion of content, is extraordinarily important.

We also think, obviously, that the power of the Internet and other technologies that are used for the dissemination of this content is extraordinarily important, not because of the technology itself but, rather, for the benefits it can bring to people, benefits like e-health or tele-health, particularly in combating things like HIV/AIDS, e-government, the provision of governmental services, generally, through the use of technology to bring it more widely and broadly to people. That also has the additional benefit of helping curb opportunities for corruption and the like by increasing transparency in governmental processes, and the like.

And then, of course, one of the hallmarks of the Administration has been education, and the use of this technology to bring education to larger numbers of people in more diverse areas is really quite exciting.

And the third pillar that we have talked about in the past has been network security. Of course, all this works and is exciting for people as long as people feel that the networks themselves are secure, secure from cyber-attacks, secure in terms of their privacy, and the like. And we are working very hard to try to work with other governments to highlight the importance of that. And there have been a lot of international efforts in that area that have focused on a culture of cyber-security, and the like.

So, anyhow, those are some of the core principles that we've talked about, and I'd be happy to talk about -- take any questions and talk about whatever you all would like to talk about.

Bill, you always have a question.

QUESTION: Well, I'm curious. First of all, it's a summit, so that means leaders from, I understand, over 50 countries are going to be there. But as I -- as far as I know, there hasn't been an announcement who is going from the United States. Do we plan to send our leader? And, if not, who in his stead, or when will that announcement come, and what's the significance of the level of choice?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: The announcement is going to be made, right here, right now. See, I told you it would be worth coming. You're right. Let me give a quick preface, just to make sure people understand.

You're right. This is a UN summit. It is focused on heads of state and other senior political leaders, and that's very important. That's sort of the reson d'etra of the whole set of meetings that we are having here. And I do, I have heard from the Swiss that they're -- that they do expect 50, or more, heads of state to attend.

Our -- the person who will be attending on behalf of the United States in giving the speech at the summit -- there is a -- each head of state or senior political leader has five minutes at the summit to give -- and that's very traditional -- to give that speech. So the person who will give that speech is the President's Science and Technology Advisor Jack Marburger.

That is -- the message that we seek to convey by his doing this is that the President's most senior person involved on the technology and science aspects of this is involved. We are sending a signal that this is of interest and importance at the highest levels of our government.

We think it's extraordinarily important. It's extraordinarily important to the Administration and to the American people generally, and he is kind enough to take time out of an extraordinarily busy schedule to come to Geneva and to give that speech.

I will quickly drop a footnote because this is so confusing to everybody else in the world, which is, technically, I am the head of delegation. So that's not to be -- giving the big speech should not be confused with who is head of delegation. So, to see references to my being the head of delegation, that's also accurate, but not inconsistent with the person who will be giving that speech.

That basically means that I have certain responsibilities for the delegation and how that delegation is handled, both in terms of the preparatory process and at the summit itself. But in terms of who will give the speech at the summit on behalf of the United States of America, it will be Jack Marburger.

QUESTION: Could I just quickly follow up on that and ask? There was some indication earlier that the choice would depend upon how the U.S. felt about how the documents were shaping up. Does this in any way indicate that we're unhappy with the way they've come -- the outcome?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: No. But, of course, the outcome is yet to be determined, so we don't know what those documents are going to be like. We know where they are today, but both documents are still completely subject to being negotiated, that is, that no part of any document it is agreed upon is agreed to until the whole document is agreed to.

So it's really impossible to talk about where -- you know, whether or not we're happy or unhappy. We're working very closely with other administrations, with the Swiss Government, with the WSIS Secretariat. WSIS is the World Summit on the Information Society Secretariat on all these issues.

So it is not an expression of happiness or unhappiness. It's a -- it's a, really, a reflection of our commitment to this area, to the information society, to the importance of it.


QUESTION: You may not be able to give your reaction to the final document, but you can certainly say whether it looks like you're going to be able to include in the document expressions about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of -- especially with your content creation as one of the pillars of your interest, how are you going to get countries like China, even, even more, more free countries who monitor their Internet, their citizen's Internet expressions?

Are you going to be able to get that in a final, in a final statement? And if you're not, how strong could it -- is it really going to be?

AMBASSADOR GROSS: Well, first of all, I'm very optimistic that we will have a strong statement in the document that will affirm the importance of freedom of expression. We believe that is extraordinarily important. We, of course, are not alone in that view. Many others feel the same way we do. And I've been personally very pleased to see that the United Nations itself, as well as other international organizations, have weighed in strongly on this issue, as well.

Released on December 3, 2003

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