The US Is Jeopardizing the Open Internet

Article by Natalie Dunleavy Campbell & Stan Adams: “Last October, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) abandoned its longstanding demand for World Trade Organization provisions to protect cross-border data flows, prevent forced data localization, safeguard source codes, and prohibit countries from discriminating against digital products based on nationality. It was a shocking shift: one that jeopardizes the very survival of the open internet, with all the knowledge-sharing, global collaboration, and cross-border commerce that it enables.

The USTR says that the change was necessary because of a mistaken belief that trade provisions could hinder the ability of US Congress to respond to calls for regulation of Big Tech firms and artificial intelligence. But trade agreements already include exceptions for legitimate public-policy concerns, and Congress itself has produced research showing that trade deals cannot impede its policy aspirations. Simply put, the US – as with other countries involved in WTO deals – can regulate its digital sector without abandoning its critical role as a champion of the open internet.

The potential consequences of America’s policy shift are as far-reaching as they are dangerous. Fear of damaging trade ties with the US has long deterred other actors from imposing national borders on the internet. Now, those who have heard the siren song of supposed “digital sovereignty” as a means to ensure their laws are obeyed in the digital realm have less reason to resist it. The more digital walls come up, the less the walled-off portions resemble the internet.

Several countries are already trying to replicate China’s heavy-handed approach to data governance. Rwanda’s data-protection law, for instance, forces companies to store data within its border unless otherwise permitted by its cybersecurity regulator – making personal data vulnerable to authorities known to use data from private messages to prosecute dissidents. At the same time, a growing number of democratic countries are considering regulations that, without strong safeguards for cross-border data flows, could have a similar effect of disrupting access to a truly open internet…(More)”.