U.S. policies promoting a free and open internet have failed and the American government needs to rethink its approach to cyber, digital trade and online freedom, the Council on Foreign Relations said in a recent report.
The influential think tank is calling for a new foreign policy to govern cyberspace and declared in a report published Tuesday that “the era of the global internet is over.” A task force assembled by the council urged America to pursue a new vision through a coalition of U.S. allies.
“U.S. policies promoting an open, global internet have failed, and Washington will be unable to stop or reverse the trend toward fragmentation,” the report said.
Driving the segmentation of the internet and limitations on digital freedom are China and Russia. The council’s report said Beijing and Moscow have collaborated to reduce American influence over the internet and that they have leveraged the United Nations and other international groups to push a vision of state control online.
The council assessed that disagreements in the west over issues such as privacy and competition have made it difficult to counter the advance of state control.
“A free, global, and open internet was a worthy aspiration that helped guide U.S. policymakers for the internet’s first thirty years,” the report said. “The internet as it exists today, however, demands a reconsideration of U.S. cyber and foreign policies to confront these new realities. The Task Force believes that U.S. goals moving forward will be more limited and thus more attainable, but the United States needs to act quickly to design strategies and tactics that can ameliorate an urgent threat.”
The Biden administration has sought to get international support for its vision of internet policy and enlisted more than 60 nations to join its Declaration for the Future of the Internet earlier this year. The plan aimed to promote a vision and principles for internet policy that advance human rights, online freedom, and inclusive and affordable connectivity without stepping on any individual country’s laws or regulations, according to the State Department.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ report said it viewed the Biden administration’s “driving idea” as correct but that “simply opposing the Chinese and Russian models of the internet is not enough.”
The council made a series of recommendations, including building a digital trade agreement among like-minded countries, adopting digital privacy rules in keeping with European regulations, creating an international cybercrime center and making digital competition a part of national security strategy.
“Even as the free and open internet loses ground, the United States and Europe remain divided over the legitimate role of privacy, antitrust, industry promotion, and data localization regulations,” the report said. “Despite a shared assessment of the threat of Chinese and Russian cyber operations and a commitment to the protection of human rights online, these unresolved issues have made it difficult to present a common front.”