Concerns about the internet’s long-term trajectory have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, according to senior officials in the Biden administration, as Russia has moved to ban Western social media services and impose sanctions for sharing accurate information about the conflict.
“We believe that this particular conflict is an essential part of the overall struggle between authoritarian governments and democracies,” a senior official told reporters Wednesday evening. Officials declined to say whether Russia and China had offered them the opportunity to sign.
Thursday’s announcement comes after months of deliberation among governments, civil society groups, major tech companies and other members of the Internet ecosystem. The signatories range from military allies of the United States to economic partners, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine.
Among other issues, the announcement repeatedly highlights how cyber-attacks and disinformation threaten to undermine human rights and the promises of the Internet.
“Online platforms have enabled the increased spread of illegal or harmful content that can threaten the safety of individuals and contribute to extremism and violence,” the document added.
Many of the commitments outlined in the agreement reflect current US policy initiatives, and administration officials have described the declaration as a way to organize and harmonize these efforts internationally.
Under the agreement, states pledged not to misuse internet technologies for illegal surveillance; block content or websites that violate the so-called principles of net neutrality; Or the use of digital tools to undermine confidence in elections.
They agreed to support multilateral efforts against cybercrime, an issue of increasing importance as companies and governments alike stumble in the face of devastating ransomware attacks.
They have committed to using only “trustworthy” network equipment, a reference to espionage risks that the US and its allies have said are linked to Chinese vendors such as Huawei. (Huawei has denied that it poses any risk to its customers’ communications or security.)
Together, they have joined in reasserting their support for the decentralized, consensus-based approach that for decades has underpinned decisions about how the Internet works.
“We and our allies are not here to divide the Internet, but to save it from being divided,” said one senior US official.