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Free Expression, Open Internet

CDT’s Emma Llansó Testifies Before Senate Finance Committee on Advancing Digital Rights in the Indo-Pacific Region

A portion of Emma Llansó’s written testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on March 15, 2022 is pasted below. Read the full testimony here.


The Promise and Challenge of Strategic Trade Engagement in the Indo-Pacific Region

Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance

March 15, 2022

Testimony of Emma Llansó, Director, Free Expression Project Center for Democracy & Technology

Chairman Wyden, Ranking Member Crapo, and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the opportunities for advancing digital rights and fostering robust digital economies through strategic trade engagements in the Indo-Pacific region. My name is Emma Llansó and I am the Director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), where I have worked for more than twelve years to promote law and policy that support Internet users’ rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy in the U.S., Europe, and around the world.  

CDT is a nonpartisan nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to advancing civil rights and civil liberties in the digital world. Headquartered since 1994 in Washington, DC, and with a growing office in Brussels, Belgium, CDT works to ensure that human rights and civil liberties are at the forefront of policy debates around the Internet and emerging technologies, and to advance policy solutions that sustain an open, interconnected Internet that supports people’s enjoyment of their human rights. 

So I am grateful for the Committee’s focus on the promises and challenges in the digital sphere that will arise as the United States pursues closer trade relations in the Indo-Pacific. Over half of the world’s young population lives in the Indo-Pacific region, which makes up 60% of the global GDP and nearly two-thirds of global economic growth. It accounts for a little over half of the world’s Internet users, and Internet use in the Indo-Pacific Region is expected to grow to up to 3.1 billion users by 2023. 

There is an urgent need to counter the authoritarian model of Internet regulation promoted by the Chinese government, which threatens human rights and impedes the development of an open digital economy. Indeed, there are an alarming number of recent laws and legislative proposals across the Indo-Pacific region that seek to control speech and access to information, subject Internet users to surveillance, and give state authorities control over Internet infrastructure. 

The U.S. has the opportunity, including through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) discussions, to promote a rights-respecting, multistakeholder approach to Internet governance that ensures the participation of civil society and technical experts in the development of technology policy and prioritizes maintaining an open, interconnected Internet in the region and worldwide. It should promote the rule of law and seek commitments to uphold international human rights, which are vital to countering digital censorship and surveillance practices, and which in turn benefits the economy. Online service providers and other businesses need the legal certainty that comes from the rule of law in order to operate globally. When national regulations comply with international human rights obligations, they both protect people’s rights and bring economic benefits by more closely harmonizing regulations across borders. The U.S. should build on existing commitments to digital rights, including through the Freedom Online Coalition, and secure additional commitments to refrain from imposing Internet shutdowns, reject extralegal censorship, limit the use of surveillance technologies, and ensure access to end-to-end encrypted services. 

The U.S. should also promote opportunities for shared learning across governments, and with the involvement of human rights advocates, technical experts, and other civil society representatives, especially around emerging issues, including artificial intelligence. The IPEF process should coordinate with the variety of such learning and information-sharing fora that already exist across the U.S. government, including the EU Technology Trade Council and the Freedom Online Coalition. 

Finally, the US should recognize that nations sometimes have legitimate concerns that may impel them to adopt laws that threaten human rights, such as data and personnel localization mandates and requirements to undermine encryption. For the U.S. to successfully promote the free flow of data, and reject overly restrictive national data protection laws that can serve as vehicles for censorship and surveillance, other nations must be able to have confidence that, for example, their citizens’ data will be protected from corporate and government abuses when sent to the U.S.

Read the full written testimony here.