Preview of the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul, Turkey

Senior State Department Officials
Via Teleconference
August 28, 2014

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining this background briefing previewing next week’s Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul.

A quick note on the ground rules for the call: Remarks made on the call are all on background, so no use of names or titles in reporting, and we’ll be taking questions on the topic of internet governance. With us today, we have [Senior State Department Official One] and [Senior State Department Official Two], hereafter referred to as Senior State Department Official One and Two respectively.

Senior State Department Official One is going to make brief opening remarks, and then we’ll turn it over to you to take your questions on internet governance.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, thank you very much, and I’m very happy to be talking to you virtually, which is certainly appropriate for the fact that we’re going to the ninth annual Internet Governance Forum meeting, and I’m going to be heading the U.S. delegation there.

And we have some very key goals. As you probably know, the Internet Governance Forum is the premier international meeting that talks about the future of the internet. It is a multi-stakeholder meeting. There’s over 3,000 participants from all continents and representing all sort of specters of society, from government to the private sector to civil society to the technical community to academia. And so it’s a large multi-stakeholder event, which is appropriate since the internet is affecting the lives of all the people that are involved in that messaging.

And so we’re looking to have two really big messages, and the first is that what’s obvious: The internet has proven to be a tremendous force for economic and social empowerment, and secondly, that we have a shared responsibility to adopt policies and practices to ensure the internet’s continued growth and vibrancy. And we want to make sure that we don’t take the health and growth of the internet for granted. And I plan to urge the international community to redouble their efforts to make sure that the internet can continue to expand and be healthy and vibrant and power innovation.

Just some facts which I think are really interesting, just the way in which people’s lives are improved by the internet – I think we intuitively know that, but a couple of really interesting anecdotes: For example, farmers in Kenya are using mobile services through a service called DrumNet that allows them to compare prices for their produce at a range of locations, and they’re now earning 33 to 40 percent more for their crops because of this. So this is an essential tool for them for information.

Another example: In education, where a website named Coursera offers hundreds of free courses and partners with top universities and colleges to offer these courses to over 9 million users, 65 percent of which are outside the United States. So those are some very tangible examples of how the internet’s bettering lives, and I think also their statistics totally support this. So there’s a 2012 report that projects by 2016, the internet economy will reach $4.2 trillion in the G20 economies alone. And in developing countries, they’re experiencing even faster rates of growth. The internet economy contributes 5 to 9 percent of total economic growth in developed markets, but in developing markets, it is growing at 15 to 25 percent per year, which is a huge amount.

So we see that there’s an enormous potential here both in the developed world but also in the developing world, and that is why we think it is vital that the policies and practices that all these stakeholders adopt ensure that there’s going to be improved access and continued innovation in the internet. And this is something that is a shared responsibility that we all have, all of these stakeholders. It’s not just a government responsibility. We need to strengthen the free flow of information and we need to also address misuse of the internet, and whether that’s through cyber attacks or identity theft, this is something that there needs to be a conversation and real, tangible solutions that are developed in a way that is going to ensure the vitality of the internet. And those are the things that I’m going to reiterate while I am in Istanbul, as well as to support the continuation of this IGF forum as a premier venue for these type of discussions.

So I am very excited about the opportunity to be at the IGF, as well as to engage with not just governments, but industry and civil society. And we are working to – through that forum to bring the next 3 billion people online, and we want to continue to grow the internet in a way that we leave the next generation an internet that’s open, innovative, and global. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Now we’re ready to take your questions.

OPERATOR: And once again, ladies and gentlemen, if there are any questions on the phone lines at this time, please press * followed by the 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue, and all questions will be pulled in the order they are received.

Our first question today comes from the line of Gautham Nagesh with Wall Street. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, this is Gautham Nagesh. Could you explain in a little plainer terms what exactly the structure of the Internet Governance Forum would look like and what it would do? And the big question is: Is this the kind of organization to whom you guys are considering transferring your contractual relationship with ICANN to?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, the answer to your last question is no. No one is thinking that they’re going to transfer the ICANN governance to the international – to the Internet Governance Forum. The forum is, like the internet, a new kind of animal. And the idea behind it is that decisions about the internet should not be made in stone only by government, that there needs to be this huge conversation.

That said, the Internet Governance Forum itself is not a forum that’s going to make binding decisions about regulation of the internet. But what they are going to do is create consensus and work toward solutions that can then be adopted as appropriate. And that may be things that are voluntarily done by industry or by NGOs and maybe things that are done through regulation. So this is sort of the place where everything can ferment.

OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of David McAuley with Bloomberg BNA. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. [Senior State Department Official One], thank you very much. I have a question concerning support for the IGF. And one of the things that came out of the NETmundial initiative is that there’s a recognition that the IGF needs enhanced financial support. Are you able to say what the – what your – what the State Department thinks about that? And is it – had under consideration any financial support for IGF?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, just to say I think we actually have been providing some support for IGF. So this isn’t something that we haven’t been supporting. And I think the question of continuation of the IGF, we fully support and obviously that will entail a financial obligation on our part, and we’re going to urge others to also do their part to make sure that the IGF continues.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: David, just to add to that, last year under Secretary Kerry’s leadership, for the first time we made a significant financial contribution to the IGF. We’re looking at our financial situation again this year to see what we can do. But the IGF is funded through contributions from a wide range of stakeholders, and we intend to continue encouraging folks to participate in making contributions to furthering the existence of the IGF and its success going forward.

QUESTION: And we do have a question from the line of Joseph Marks from Politico. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Could you talk a little bit about what role cyber security is going to play in this upcoming conference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There’s going to be a number of panels and discussions, and there are several on cyber security at the conference in which – and we will be actively participating and a number of our U.S. Government agencies that are sort of experts in cyber security will also be participating. So that is one of the big topics for discussion at the conference.

QUESTION: Are there any particular cyber security goals that the U.S. Government’s coming to the conference with?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I think in terms of – our goal is to ensure that cyber security is first and foremost promoted through a system of experts and ensuring that we have a focus on the protection of networks. And so we have a computer emergency response team constructions that we do through bilateral efforts as well as multiple organizations provide that sort of assistance to countries that really don’t have the capacity or the knowledge base to build up protection systems. What we want to make sure is that the real risk of cyber security, which is a true thing and exists, is not manipulated by countries to try to achieve what they call information security. There are a number of authoritarian regimes, when they’re talking about cyber security, aren’t talking about the security of networks but rather trying to talk about what they believe is threats to what they call either culture or political systems. In which case that’s a separate and different conversation that needs to be had outside that context. But we want to make sure that people have – and nations and network owners and operators have the skills and the capacity to create systems for responding to and mitigating against any cyber attacks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: But can I just add on top of that that this goes back to how do we balance our shared responsibility. Nobody thinks that legitimate cyber attacks – they’re illegitimate. And we need to find a legitimate way of addressing that. But the line that has to be locked is: How do we address that and still maintain a vibrant and open internet? And those are challenges that we have to face and we have to recognize that they’re out there. So that’s why it’s so important that this be dealt with on an expert level and not actually be politicized.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And then just one last thing. As [Senior State Department Official One] said, there will be workshops on a series of subjects. Cyber security is one of them, and there will be a workshop on best practices in the construction of certs, and we want to see a sharing among nations of what constitutes best practices for the construction of certs so that, obviously, networks are protected.

OPERATOR: And as a reminder, if there are any questions from the phone lines at this time, please press * followed by the 1.

And we do have a question from the line of David Meyer from Gigaom. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I just wanted to ask: obviously, you’ve got countries like Russia who are starting to impose local storage mandates that Russian citizens’ data must be stored in Russia. A lot of that’s a response to the revelations about U.S. espionage activities. Is this something you expect to be on the agenda? And what’s your stance going to be on it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we have taken a very strong stance that these data storage requirements or proposals are really not healthy for the (inaudible) of the internet and are not something that should be – frankly that people should use as an excuse – the Snowden revelations – as an excuse for taking what are essentially protectionist measures, and measures that are going to actually harm the ability of the internet to work in an organic way.

OPERATOR: And we do have a question from the line of Lynn Stanton with the TRDaily. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking the call. From looking at the program draft document, it appears that a lot of the discussion will be focused on process. Do you think in balance there’ll be a lot of discussion of these more substantive issues that we’ve been talking about so far, like cyber security and data storage rules and whatnot? And also, do you expect there to be actual work product outcome from this that people will sign on to, or is this really a discussion-type venue?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would say – well, first of all, I wouldn’t characterize this as a big process thing. And in fact, that’s one of the reasons why we’re concerned about proposals to put this into fora that are very heavy on process. In fact, this is really about substance. And so all these panels, all these simultaneous discussions, all the side discussions are really not about process; they’re really about substance. And as I have said, to me, this is really the place where ideas are fermented. And so I don’t think that you’re going to see, for example, folks coming up with “here’s the code of conduct and we’re all signing on.” But what can you see is the seeds for that being germinated because of these discussions, and then that can continue to flow forward.

So I think that’s really the value of this, is that you get all these voices together, people put their heads together, and that can lead to more concrete results – both voluntary and, as I said, regulatory.

OPERATOR: We do have a question from the line of Joe McKnight from Communications Daily. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking the call. I was wondering if the State Department has a position on ICANN’s accountability process released August 14th. This is in light of a letter sent to ICANN Tuesday from its major constituencies, including the GAC, questioning that accountability process, or at the least asking for clarification. I’m wondering whether or not ICANN’s accountability process – or what role it will play in the IGF next week.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: ICANN will be represented at the IGF. Fadi Chehade, Steve Crocker, and others will be there to talk about the ongoing – both the accountability and the transition processes. These are, again, ongoing processes, and they’re evolving as we move forward towards proposals for ensuring the accountability of ICANN to the world’s users of the internet and the customers that it serves.

So right now, we’re comfortable with the ICANN accountability process itself and see it being responsive to an iterative process of both feedback from the community as well as proposals coming from ICANN itself.

OPERATOR: And we do have a follow-up question from the line of Gautham Nagesh with The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to go back to something State Department Official One said about cyber attacks being illegitimate. I think one of my colleagues alluded to this. There’s been widespread revelation of the U.S. using offensive cyber tools itself. Would there be any sort of pledge not to do that as part of this process, or does that factor in at all to these discussions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I – just so there’s no misunderstanding here, I was talking about folks who are hacking to do malicious damage to businesses and et cetera. So that is what I was talking about when I was talking about cyber attacks. And so the whole – the general discussion about cyber security will absolutely take place, and there are panels that are all set out to do so. So yeah, the general panel will – the general topic will be discussed, of cyber security.

OPERATOR: And our last question comes from the line of David McAuley from Bloomberg BNA. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just have a question also on your views of the NETmundial initiative that got underway this morning and how it fits with the IGF.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think the NETmundial initiative is really, hugely positive. I think it’s very telling that the timing of it is right before the IGF. And again, what it’s reinforcing is that having multiple stakeholders have a way of looking at the issues that are surrounding the internet, how it’s governed is absolutely essential for its continued growth. So we fully support that discussion, and we can expect that the things that they have discussed are going to flow into the IGF discussions as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. Well, that was our last question, so we’d like to thank everybody for participating. As a reminder, this was all on background as senior State Department officials, and the transcript of this call will be posted at when it’s available. Thank you.