Ugandans have been going to the polls, with President Yoweri Museveni hoping to extend his 25 years in office.
Counting is under way and voting was generally smooth but a journalist was shot in the east when soldiers opened fire at an opposition politician.
TOPIC: INTERNET FREEDOM
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2011, 2:00 P.M., EDT
NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10th Floor
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for coming. Very brief, we have Mr. Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of the Secretary of State.
MR. ROSS: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a real pleasure to be here this afternoon. I just wanted to speak very briefly at the top. The Secretary gave a spectacular and fairly comprehensive address yesterday about internet freedom, so I’m not going to give a speech myself now, but rather just wanted to point out a few things that I know have gotten noticed around the world.
First, one thing that I think is important to point out is what she spoke of in terms of the dictator’s dilemma. One point that she made yesterday that I think was very compelling, an important one, was that the internet of the future is not necessarily going to be made by the two billion people who use it today, but rather by the additional five billion people who are going to be going online for the next – going online in the years to come.
And it’s not always going to be the case that people in the United States or in Western Europe determine what the nature of the internet will be in a given country. It’s those nations today where information networks are now becoming ubiquitous, are now coming into place, where countries are just now forming their own internet-based policies which will determine what the internet looks like in their country.
And one point that I think that’s remarkably important which the Secretary made yesterday was that in those countries where heads of state choose to throttle back the access to the internet of their citizens, they are going to be in an untenable position going forward; you can’t just have a political internet, an economic internet, or a social internet and choose between them. The Secretary pointed out that in Tunisia the Ben Ali government really tried to have an open economic internet but tried to close off all of the political discourse, and that eventually caught up with him. So that’s one important point she made.
Another important point that I just want to highlight for all of your attention is how, even though so many of these technologies are new and things like Facebook and Twitter and such things get an enormous amount of attention, this isn’t about Facebook, this isn’t about Twitter. This is actually about values of the United States that aren’t just years or decades old, but actually centuries old. Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State, and he said something important and timeless, which is that the only legitimate foundation for government is the will of its people, and to preserve its free expression should be our first order.
When Thomas Jefferson said that, part of what he was doing was making clear that the freedom of expression is an American value. And it’s proven today to be a timeless value. Every since the pamphleteering that took place during the American Revolution, the freedom of the press, the freedom to publish, is something that has been an important part of America and it remains so today. And from our earliest days, the freedom of assembly and association have been American values and American priorities.
And so even though the tools are new, they’re timeless values. And when the Secretary of State first took internet freedom from a piece of foreign policy arcana and elevated it to something more central within our statecraft, within America’s foreign policy, in an address a year ago on January 21st of 2010, part of what she was doing was saying that the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly and association, and the freedom of the press, in the 21st century these things are increasingly exercised on the internet. And if we are going to continue to value the freedom of expression, if we are going to continue to value the freedom of the press and all of our universal values, if we don’t do so on our digital networks, then our commitment is only a half-measure.
We’ve learned a lot in the one year that this has been a major foreign policy priority of the Obama Administration. And to be perfectly blunt, it’s been a huge success. 2009 was the worst year in the history of internet freedom. During 2009, what we saw was that it wasn’t just countries that get all of the press, like China and Iran who restrict their access to the internet. These were not – even though these nations get most of the press for what they do in terms of restricting their citizens’ access to the internet, point in fact, what we saw during 2009 was that it was literally dozens – dozens of countries – who were blocking more on the internet, countries as varied as Turkey and Thailand, not all countries that people necessarily associate with an authoritarian or totalitarian government.
And when Hillary Clinton gave her speech in January of last year, one of the most important impacts that it made over the course of the last year is that it slowed the trend. So the degree to which countries of all stripes saw restricting access to the internet as a tool in their toolbox, as a way of controlling the information environment in their country, that trend significantly slowed.
Now, we saw an example very – two examples very recently of countries that went in a different direction, specifically Tunisia and Egypt. In Tunisia, the country blocked access to certain websites and it attempted to hack the Facebook accounts of more than a million people, literally more than 10 percent of the Tunisian population. That did not end up going well for them. And the United States was the first to speak out publicly and we spoke out aggressively. We convoked the Tunisian ambassador. We addressed this in Tunis as well as in Washington. And I think that there are lessons to be learned from what happened in Tunisia that people around the world will notice.
The Government of Egypt then went a step further, where they created what Secretary Clinton characterized as a communications blackout. And President Obama and Secretary Clinton spoke out very forcefully about the need to end the communications blackout in Egypt. And I hope you all have read the transcript of the Secretary’s speech yesterday. She spoke very articulately about the impact in Egypt and elsewhere to taking such drastic measures.
So one of the most important things that she raises is dictator’s dilemma and again yesterday pointed out to citizens of the world and leaders of the world that internet freedom is going to continue to be a foreign policy priority of the United States, is going to continue to be something that is on the table when we sit down with our global interlocutors, and it is something that we think is going to continue to define Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.
So with that, I thank you and I’m happy to take questions. If you could, if you could when you ask questions say who you are and identify where you come from, please. Okay?
QUESTION: Hi, Isabel Piquer from Spanish newspaper Publico. I have two questions. First, there was a big article in New York Times today about how Egypt turned off the internet. In that case, what can you do? And if you can do something, how can you do it without seeming to interfere in the matters of that country?
And the second question is last year, I think you also allocated grants for all kinds of internet projects. Can you be a little bit more specific? What have you done and what do you plan to do with the new money that you are –
MR. ROSS: Of course. So as to the first question, I look forward to reading that article. I haven’t actually read it yet. But yes, I mean, what we saw was that the Government of Egypt did, in fact, have the capacity to create an information blackout, or communications blackout, in its country. And there’s been some fascinating research done just in the weeks since about how that was actually done.
And I do think that it has significant implications and is worthy of investigation and discussion. If a country has the capacity to, as the Secretary said yesterday, flip the switch, what does that mean? And is that a proper role? Is that a proper responsibility of a government? I think that these are open questions. I think that the short history of the time between the Egyptian Government choosing to do that to present day would suggest unambiguously that it was a mistake on their part, but what’s very interesting and important to note is that they could, in fact, do it.
As to your second question, actually, we can’t be more specific. We are granting out tens of millions of dollars for internet freedom activities, but we very purposefully don’t disclose what we fund. And the reason for that is quite simply people’s safety. These dollars flow to a variety of different organizations, many of whom are nonprofit organizations, all of whom are focused on helping to promote the values that I described earlier in terms of the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly; and to name them puts them at real risk.
MR. ROSS: Yes, yes. So we very purposefully are not going to disclose who we give the money to. And we announced sort of how much the total grant amounts are, but we would be doing those organizations and those individuals at those organizations an enormous disservice if we named them.
QUESTION: What I was trying to do – a follow-up on those questions?
MR. ROSS: Yes.
QUESTION: What I was actually trying to say is that if a country decides to shut off internet, should the U.S. or the international community interfere technically or whatever to try to open this without seeming like interfering in their affairs.
MR. ROSS: Yeah, the word choice is interesting: interference. When the Egyptians did it, we spoke out very aggressively. In Iran in 2009 when the Iranian Government throttled back access to their communications networks, part of what we did was we did what we could to help make sure that Twitter remained up, for example, and that communications networks stayed up, for example.
Look, we take an unapologetic view of trying to do those things which will facilitate the free flow of information. And I think that the United States is not the only government that does this. And we view universal rights as rights worth fighting for and rights worth speaking out for, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to do.
QUESTION: Joe Geni, Yomiuri daily news.
MR. ROSS: Where, again?
QUESTION: Yomiuri daily news, Japanese daily. I was wondering – obviously, you don’t want to name the specific organizations, but can you, for example, say something about, for example, which countries you’re – the State Department is financing these groups? Is it just in countries that are dictatorial and have hostile relations with the United States like Iran, or is it also countries like China – or you mentioned Turkey and Thailand? And also, what sort of diplomatic – when Turkey and Thailand took steps backward on internet freedom, did the United States speak out against that and discuss that with those countries?
MR. ROSS: Very good questions. So, first of all, we program globally. And the Secretary described that – again, she is so much better at this than I am, so much smarter than I am, so much better a public speaker than I am, so definitely look at how she described this yesterday. She described a venture capital approach, meaning instead – what she said is there’s no silver bullet for internet freedom, there’s no app for that. She meant we’re not going to take all of our $25 million and say look at that great technology, here’s $25 million. We take – we are taking an approach where we are making a lot of different investments. And it’s not just proxy and circumvention technology. It’s training. It’s all of the different kinds of supports that are needed for internet freedom. You aren’t going to be able to just hack your way to a free and open internet. You’ve also got to train people to know how to stay safe online. There are training programs and others that we put in place.
In terms of countries, I think a lot of people mistakenly think of this as a regime change agenda. It absolutely, positively is not. And people who attack the internet freedom agenda as being a regime change agenda are attacking a straw man. That is simply not true. And the tools and organizations that we support more often than not are putting together trainings and developing tools that can be used in any country. So it’s less about surgically investing for one particular market.
MODERATOR: We have a question in Washington.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Borah from Radio Free Asia in Washington, D.C. You mentioned the internet access is for the addition of five billion people in the world. And as you know, as one of the countries that have little access to the information or freedom of access, North Korea regime restricts many information access for the people, so many people are very limited to access any information online or publication or press, any method. What kind of support or diplomatic strategy can U.S. Government make for the North Korean people?
MR. ROSS: That’s a very good question. Thank you. In a country where the country demonstrates a will to completely blockade information from its citizens, it’s very difficult for the United States to do something technically which can overcome that censorship. So I’m thinking about Cuba, I’m thinking about North Korea, as you mentioned. The communications networks that exist in those countries fall under the control of the countries that administer them. And so if the networks themselves are largely inaccessible, then there’s very little that we can do. I have heard reports about mobile networks in China increasingly reaching into North Korea, but that isn’t anything that the United States has anything to do with.
And I think it’s important, too, to point out the distinction between what is the appropriate role for the United States Government and what the United States Government can do, and what demographic forces and what market forces will also do.
So as the world – particularly as the developing world becomes younger, as there is this youth bulge that takes – that is taking place, young people are going to increasingly demand access to a free and open internet. I’m 39 years old. I didn’t send or receive a single email when I was in college. I didn’t go to the internet until I was in my mid-20s. I didn’t own a cell phone until I was 28 years old.
But for people who are under age 25, for people who are 15 or more years younger than me, they’re growing up in a different world. They’re growing up in a very digital world. And what they are going to demand from their governments, regardless of where they live, is they are going to want to live in a world that is more digital and that is not throttle back by the censors in their government.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi, I’m from Turkish Journal. I have several questions.
MR. ROSS: Why don’t you start with two?
QUESTION: Okay. You hear me? Okay, sorry. Let me go back up to the top of the page. I have some legal questions that I – I mean, some questions about –
MR. ROSS: I’m not a lawyer, so – (laughter).
QUESTION: I know. But a couple – yeah, okay. Anyway –
MR. ROSS: I can hear you.
QUESTION: A couple of questions.
MODERATOR: You need to use the microphone for the transcript.
MR. ROSS: You need the mike.
QUESTION: Okay. I can’t hear my – okay. One thing is I wanted you to elaborate on Turkey and their internet situation. Do you think it’s mostly open compared to other countries, or do you feel that they need to have some training in that area?
And in light of this Julian Assange situation, do you think that a law will actually come about in America to deal with this leaking of documents that are supposed to be secret? Because what constitutes the fine line between our right to know as journalists and citizens and the public’s right to know, and your right to keep things private so that we can be secure? That’s something that no one has really addressed, and I’m curious to know.
MR. ROSS: Hillary Clinton addressed it yesterday.
QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry, I wasn’t there.
MR. ROSS: Yeah. No, you’ve got to read her – so no, but I’m happy to address the first. As to Turkey, Turkey, if you look at the very recent history of Turkey, it’s really admirable the steps that Turkey has taken to advance its economy well-being. It’s a country that I like very much and I’m very impressed by the work that’s taken place there in recent years.
And my impression – my hope is that Turkey will lean West rather than lean East in terms of the policies that it takes for the – regarding the internet. I do think that it is – my impression is that it’s a largely open internet in Turkey, though there are people who know far more about this – about Turkey – than I do. But my understanding is that there’s a very sophisticated and smart technological and scientific environment in Turkey, and I anticipate that that will continue to be the case.
As to your second question about Mr. Assange, my boss spoke so directly about this yesterday. You’ve really got to look at the transcript of her remarks. One thing that I will point out about what she said is that this was an act of theft. And it doesn't matter – what she said was that it doesn't matter whether it was done using the internet or whether it was done using somebody walking out of a building holding a briefcase with documents in it. She – an entire portion, about ten minutes of her speech yesterday, was about the tension between transparency and confidentiality. And so I would urge you to get the transcript of that. She goes very deep into this.
QUESTION: Okay. Frank van Viliet of De Telegraaf from the Netherlands. A question about Twitter. You’ve just started Twitter aiming at Iran in the Persian language –
MR. ROSS: And in Arabic as well.
MR. ROSS: And Hindi and Russian and others to come. Yep.
QUESTION: Isn’t that also kind of propaganda, too? Or how do you see that?
MR. ROSS: I’m very skeptical about propaganda in the year 2011. I mean, I don’t think most people are going to buy it. I just don’t. People get so much information from so many different sources that if somebody tries to propagandize towards me, I’m not buying it because I’m getting news from a million different sources on my cell phone --
QUESTION: Not necessarily in those countries.
MR. ROSS: Well, it varies. There are more than 1,700 satellite channels in Iran. I take a very skeptical view of whether, quote, “propaganda” is going to be effective in this day and age. It will be perhaps to a certain extent, but I think that people in the year 2011 are increasingly sophisticated consumers of information. And so with Twitter, for example, we’re Tweeting, and I Tweet – @AlecJRoss – shameless little plug there – AlecJRoss – to get information out there, to point out content that might otherwise get missed, but also as a way of listening. You can use these tools to broadcast out, but for me it’s a more valuable tool to listen and to hear from people who might not be able to get a meeting with me. But this way I can just go online and I can see dozens and hundreds of comments and messages, and I can get a sense of what’s going on in the world.
Let me give you another example of how Twitter, for example, and other social media democratize access to information. It has historically been the case – 30 years ago it would have been the case that if you got your message right for NBC, ABC, CBS, and got your sound – the sound bites as you wanted them together for the evening newscast, and you got the headline you wanted in the newspaper in the morning, that was overwhelmingly how people got their information. Now, broadcast news is still important. The morning newspaper is still important. But we live in a more fragmented information environment today. So the amount of information that people are getting is far greater and the number of sources from which they are getting it is far greater. What does that mean? Part of what it means, in my mind, is that propagandizing in the conventional cold war sense of it is going to be decreasingly effective.
So if we are using these tools for, quote/unquote, “propaganda,” I think we’re going to be disappointed by the result. If, however, we use it to connect with people who are otherwise difficult to connect to in an environment with state-controlled media, and if we use this as way of not just talking but listening, then we will be effective with it.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for the question. Sure. Yanchun, Economic Daily. I have two questions. The first is that –
MR. ROSS: And where are you from, ma’am?
QUESTION: Economic Daily.
MR. ROSS: Okay.
QUESTION: We understand that earlier you were involved in a discussion of internet innovation, so I’m wondering if you would like to brief us with the priorities of the forms of innovation you anticipate in coming years on the internet.
MR. ROSS: Okay.
QUESTION: And secondly, further to the first two questions, the second of the first, given – I mean, the announcement on the internet freedom is a long-term strategy, which we hope it is, and then do you have any kind of a test or justification or reviewing on the invest – I mean, written on investment. We know it’s not an *invitation of a submission of tender*, which is open to everyone, but still we should have a – do you have a measurement for that to support a long-term strategy return? Thank you.
MR. ROSS: Sure. Two very good questions, thank you. So first, in terms of what innovations do we see happening that will impact the world and impact our statecraft, I honestly – I feel more removed from the cutting edge now that I’m in government than I did when I was working at my NGO. Sometimes it’s a little bit like being in a bubble when you’re in government, and so my sense of what’s happening now is not as strong as it was two or three years ago.
And so government, I think oftentimes, isn’t necessarily the right entity or the right engine to be the driver, to be the innovator itself; but rather, if it identifies promising practices, if we see things that work, we then can do a lot to support it. So let me give you one example: text messaging, philanthropic donations through text messaging. I don’t think it would have been a good idea for the United States Government to say, hey, there’s no reason why the packets that get transferred via SMS can’t be used to transfer capital. But since the innovation was done elsewhere, and since we recognized how it could support a development goal of ours, it was something that we then chose to support.
Let me make that practical for a second. So when the earthquake hit Haiti, it was a little bit before 5:00 p.m., so sort of late afternoon, early evening. Secretary Clinton was in Hawaii and she was about to head to Papua New Guinea. She never made it because she had to come back to respond to the earthquake. But one thing that she wanted to have happen was by the time people had their first cup of coffee the next morning, when they were first hearing about the level of devastation in Haiti, she wanted the American people to be able to do something right then to help.
Now, because a group of young diplomats at the State Department had learned about this text messaging, donations over text messaging campaign that others had done which had worked, we then were able to take what was a promising innovation and bring it to scale. And so we put this program in place where people could text the word “Haiti” to a short code, 90999, and in less than three weeks we raised $35 million. More than 3 million Americans donated in $10 increments for earthquake relief in Haiti.
So going back to your question about innovation, I think that the United States Government, or at least the State Department, is less likely to be the originator of the innovation than it is to be the supporter of the innovation.
As to your second question, I think what I heard essentially is a question about measuring return on investment for venture capital investments and internet freedom.
MR. ROSS: Right, yeah. So first of all, we aren’t very long into this. We’re about a year, a year and a half, into this. What I will point to is while we will do our own evaluations, which will be non-public, there are other third parties who do do evaluations which are public which I think are highly credible.
So for example, Harvard University’s Berkman Center of Law publishes evaluations of tools – of internet freedom tools. And I think it’s reasonable to assume that public – that high-quality research, the likes of which is done at the Berkman Center or at Harvard Law School, are things that we will draw from.
So I think it’s very important that as we make these investments, we test and asses what is and what isn’t working. Secretary Clinton yesterday again said we’re taking a venture capital approach to making these investments. One of the things about venture capital, if you understand the metrics of venture capital, is you might invest in ten different things, and between two or three pay off. But if the right ones pay off, then it can be a hugely scalable solution. And there are technologies and there are tools out there that I won’t mention but which you can identify yourself which are now being used very effectively by millions of people around the globe to keep them safe online.
QUESTION: Zdenek Fucik, Czech News Agency.
MR. ROSS: Where? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Czech News Agency. I have two questions. Did you support the internet freedom in Egypt and Tunisia, and what do you think of the role of these internet technologies and these protests? Have you learned anything from it?
MR. ROSS: Yeah, those are great questions.
QUESTION: And second –
MR. ROSS: Yep.
QUESTION: The technology used to control the internet in some countries is sometimes developed here in United States. Do you think there should be some kind of embargo for exporting such technologies?
MR. ROSS: You’re a good journalist. Those are good questions.
So as to the first one, Tunisia and Egypt – so yes, we spoke out and we spoke out loudly. As I mentioned earlier, after a young man set himself – literally set himself on fire on --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) but before the protests.
MR. ROSS: Oh, yeah. So going back to January 21st of 2010, so 11 months before the protests, Secretary Clinton publicly denounced in her speech at the Newseum the lack of internet freedom in both Tunisia and Egypt. So for those of you who I’m encouraging to read her internet freedom speech from yesterday, I also encourage you to read her speech from January 21st of last year, because it makes her look like a fortune teller. Let me tell you, it’s remarkably prescient.
So she spoke out, but we did more than that. Part of what we also did is we invested in groups whose job it was to work in environments like those in Egypt and Tunisia so that they could get access to an open and free internet. One that I’ll point out that’s gotten some public attention lately is the Alliance for Youth Movements. So one or two of the organizations that were associated with the protests in Egypt have been supported by the State Department through the Alliance for Youth Movements dating back to the end of 2008.
Your second question again was?
QUESTION: The technologies developed here to control the internet.
MR. ROSS: Yes.
MR. ROSS: Yeah. So it’s a very good question. So, first of all, we restrict sales to certain countries. So in certain countries, like Syria for example, there are very strict sanctions and you have to apply for a sanctions waiver to be able to sell information communications technology into that country. And so that’s sort of one mechanism that we have.
One thing that I’ll point out is that some of the technology that is used to surveil citizens is also in place in American networks. So in the United States we have a law called CALEA, and what that allows for is the lawful intercept of communications. This is a matter of public record. So Verizon and AT&T and people who run the telecommunications networks in the United States very, very regularly – I think and in testimony in 2008 Verizon said it got hundreds, hundreds a month or something like, of subpoenas to hand over communications records.
The tools for doing so are developed oftentimes in the United States. And so a lot of the tools that are being used around the country are sort of almost mainstream, off-the-shelf products. And so one person’s lawful intercept is another person’s tyranny.
So what is the fulcrum here? The fulcrum is the rule of law in a transparent legal process. So what we’re saying by way of that is that in the United States, yes, the Department of Justice has every right to subpoena communications records from a telephone company, for example, but they do so under the strict conditions that are set out under the law and which can be appealed and which go through a transparent judicial process.
So this is a clear case of where technology can be used for good or ill. Technology itself is inanimate; it takes on the values and intentions of the users. You can’t just sprinkle the internet on something and we all grow up to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. Last year, the Secretary likened technology to nuclear power, which she said could either fuel a city or destroy it. Last year, Hillary Clinton likened technology to steel. She said it could either be used to build a hospital or build machine guns. That’s technology. Technology itself does not take sides. As Hillary Clinton has said, technology does not take sides in the fight for freedom versus evil, but the United States does. And so with all of these tools, they can be used for good or they can be used for ill. But the technology itself is inanimate and value-neutral.
QUESTION: This is Jong Park, Chosun Ilbo –
MR. ROSS: Where are you from, Jong?
QUESTION: South Korea.
MR. ROSS: South Korea. Boy, you talk about a digital place.
MR. ROSS: You guys have got fabulous communications networks.
QUESTION: You’re right.
MR. ROSS: I want to live in Seoul. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: My question is a little bit different now. The position you held, senior advisor for innovation, is new to this administration (inaudible). Why does Mrs. Clinton introduce this new position, and what impact have you brought on the State Department and the diplomacy? And what is the so-called – her new digital diplomacy?
MR. ROSS: Sure. Well, you’ll have to ask other people what my impact has been. I hope it’s been good.
So when Hillary Clinton had accepted Barack Obama’s request that she become his Secretary of State, in her testimony to the United States Senate in her confirmation hearing, she said we live in a time where the promise and peril of the 21st century is no longer bound by vast distances or natural borders. What she meant by that is the increasing ubiquity and power of our information networks means that the old billiard balls of the nation-state as the sole organizing principle for the way in which we conduct our statecraft doesn't keep up with the times. I mean, it’s increasingly the case that threats to the United States are non-state based. It’s increasingly the case that because of these global communications networks, information traffics from one country to another at the speed of a keystroke.
And so I was brought in to help her actualize her vision for 21st century statecraft. And I should say that the conduct of American diplomacy remains dominantly formal interactions between sovereign nation-states, one diplomat talking to another with a mahogany table between them and a flag flying in the background. That’s how we’ve conducted our statecraft since the 18th century. But one of the things that we recognize in this day and age is we have to move the conduct of our diplomacy not at the exclusion of government-to-government interactions, but we have to amplify and enhance it with also being able to connect directly to people, people-to-people diplomacy, government-to-people diplomacy. So like the text messaging program that we did for Haiti, the $35 million that we raised in $10 increments through American citizens, that was made possible by the fact that each and every one of you’ve got a cell phone in your pocket right now.
And so as we think about what our different foreign policy challenges are, whether it is addressing increasingly violent drug cartels in northern Mexico, reducing sexual and gender-based violence in the East Congo, helping to reduce the density of landmines in Colombia, protecting and preserving the freedom of expression, it’s increasingly the case that technology can play some role in this. And I think it’s important to say that technology we don’t view as an end unto itself. We are not creating a technology agenda. We’re trying to figure out ways that technology can work horizontally to help us address existing foreign policy challenges.
So when you ask me – if you ask me what my agenda is, if I’m doing my job well, my agenda is Secretary Clinton’s agenda. I’m just trying to figure out how technology can be used as a tool to execute against it.
MODERATOR: All right. We’ll go back to Washington.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Borah again. I have one more question. It seems like the (inaudible) popular technology tool is mobile in North Korea. As (inaudible) here, the mobile access is the only way that many North Korean people heard about the Egyptian protest. So how do you think or do you think any impact that the incident causes to North Korea?
MR. ROSS: I have no idea what impact there has been in Egypt from North Korea. I honestly don’t know. What I will say is going back to a premise within your question, which is that there’s now also mobile access in North Korea, I do truly believe that as the world becomes younger and as information networks become more ubiquitous and more powerful, demographics are going to shape the internet of the future.
When people ask me what the United States can do to change the internet in China, my response to that is that it’s less that the United States Government is going to change the internet in China than the more than quarter billion Chinese under the age of 25 who are on the internet today. I think that Chinese youth are going to define the future of the internet in China, not the American Government.
And so – and I that that’s going to hold true throughout most of the world, and so I take a very sort of nondeterministic role of the United States Government in all of this. I think that there are important things that we can do to support an open marketplace, to support an open internet. But at the end of the day, demographics and market forces are going to force what Hillary Clinton called yesterday the dictator’s dilemma. Every dictator is going to have to contend with the changing technological, economic, and demographic environment in his or her country.
I’ve got time for one last question if there’s one last question. Any last questions?
QUESTION: In this year, what have you learned of conflicting interests between government, NGO, private companies, to try to put this together to – for your internal treatment?
MR. ROSS: Yeah, that’s a good question. I haven’t seen any conflicting interests. What I have seen is that a lot of these companies who are very now prominent actors in this space are incredibly young. So Facebook – seven years ago, Facebook only existed at Harvard. Six years ago, Facebook only existed in elite colleges. Five years ago, Facebook only existed – six years ago, it only existed at elite colleges in the United States. Five years ago, it only existed at colleges. We’re talking about – when people talk about Facebook revolutions and Facebook’s impact in global democracy and such things, a part of what I note is that oftentimes these are very young companies and sometimes with very young people behind them. And so it’s not about conflicts. What I’ve seen are that certain of these companies are having to figure out their own rules for the road. What are their own terms of service? What is their – what are their responsibilities as a corporate actor in these spaces?
One of the things that the Secretary spoke to yesterday was the responsibility of corporations. The private sector is a protagonist in internet freedom, and with their great powers come great responsibilities. This is not something that’s just done between governments and not just done with civil society organizations. But at the end of the day, these networks and these cell phones and these apps and these social networks, they’re usually privately owned. They’re for-profit companies. But they are acting in spaces that have things like democratization, dissent, political organizing taking place on their platforms. And what that is going to mean for all of them is that they are going to have to develop very carefully thought-through guidelines about what their own rules for the road going forward are.
Thank you all. (Applause.)