The positive power of the internet has changed the paradigm of international diplomacy, of global governance, and indeed the human condition. Secretary of State Clinton articulated most clearly last year that the United States, “On the spectrum of internet freedom, [places itself] on the side of openness.”
Over the course of the last several weeks, interested parties in America and around the world have reacted strongly for or against efforts in the U.S. to maintain internet freedom while attempting to find a way to protect the vested property rights that creators, artists, and engineers have in their product. At issue were two proposed pieces of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (“PIPA.”) Amongst all the complexity of this issue is a rather clear goal we Americans share with our democratic partners and friends around the world: Full, unfettered and free access to the internet by the global citizenry AND the protection of the intellectual wealth of our innovators and creative minds from on-line theft.
As we seek to address both of these interests, it should come as no surprise that our efforts of protecting intellectual property online cause legitimate attention to the scope of any regulation of the internet. Of course neither our government nor the American people wish unintentionally to provide a pretext to those who wish to suppress democratic rights under the guise of “legal protections.” Once completed, U.S. legislation that would protect the rights of American intellectual property and internet freedom would likewise serve to protect such rights and values the world over. Again, Secretary of State Clinton has confirmed that “there is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”
The White House meanwhile has set U.S. Administration policy regarding intellectual property legislation, stating that while piracy is a serious problem on the internet, the President will not support any proposed legislation that would reduce freedom of expression or otherwise detract from the Internet’s potential. Both the President and our Congress have called for legislation that is narrowly-tailored with a focus on criminal activity. Such tailoring should address U.S. and international concerns about internet freedom and its liberating role for people seeking free expression and democratic rule from one corner of the world to the other.
Two important engines of America’s economy, represented by places like Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and their international counterparts, should work together and help tailor workable laws in all our countries that will protect property rights, freedom of speech, and internet assembly.
I know what you’ll say. “Where have you been? Smart phones and tablet computers were hardly invented just yesterday! And havn’t you been using an iPhone and an iPad for years?” You are right and you are right again. But for my Embassy as a diplomatic platform for America today is a new day: Our entire staff will receive new iPhones today as a uniform technology platform and a new tool in our diplomatic arsenal. In addition, we are employing tablet computers — iPads to be exact — to use for Embassy tasks that until now required lots of paper and heavy briefcases. In Estonia, our diplomats on duty to assist American citizens and Estonians in need of our consular services will now carry all the information they need in a single iPad that connects them directly to the Embassy, to Washington, and to the world. Also, as part of our outreach to our Estonian hosts, by the end of this year we will roll out the U.S. Embassy Tallinn Mobile American Corner — an iPad-based ultralight mobile mini-Embassy if you wish — that our diplomats will be able to set up in minutes virtually anywhere in the country to bring America to the Estonian people. And no surprise, it is an Estonian software company that is helping us design the application to run our new system!
But back to our iPhones. In a few minutes from writing this short blog, I will be meeting with my American and Estonian team to encourage them to let their imaginations run wild (legally that is) as we come up with new ways to deploy this tool in the service of the American people. I am determined not to sound like the government official that I am during this meeting, but rather as the closest I can get to a garage brainstormer in the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates tradition. I won’t be able to hide that I am already 57 years old, but I will also not highlight it. In my vision and in my mind I feel like I a twenty-something, terribly excited about the possibilities of new information technology in the service of diplomacy — a centuries old information profession.
So I am off now to rouse my diplomatic troops, but I am first taking off my tie.
Everyone is talking education these days. Education for the very youngest of our children. Secondary education. Higher education, and adult learning. International education is an important subset of all of these discussions. For international families in the business, NGO, military, and diplomatic sectors, international primary and secondary education is not just important, it is essential. As these “nomadic professionals” circle the globe with little time spent (as little as one or two years) in any one location, they desperately search out consistency for their children’s education: an International School. The presence of such a school thus becomes a critical asset for any country that wants to play on the international economic and politial scene and attract the players that play on there.
An truly international school offers offers kindergarden through high school education of an international standard that transfers easily from country to country and continent to continent. The International Baccelaureate (IB) offers this universal standard with some 900,000 IB students in 140 countries around the world. An international school has an international faculty, uses English as the primary common language of instruction, and offers wide flexibility for students to enter and leave school at other than standard starting and completion points. For students not yet ready to function in English, support programs quickly bring them up to speed. Finally, international schools must be fully adaptive to accomodate students at all levels of learning ability, including students with special needs. In other words, international schools do not have the luxury of simply picking the best and letting “the system” take care of those less capable. There is no other “system” for nomadic professionals.
So what’s the problem? Well, international schools are expensive to run. Unless a host government helps finance such international education, tuition costs become prohibitive for professionals whose organizations, companies, or governments do not pick up the tab. As an American “diplomatic nomad” for the past 35 years, I have faced the challenge, if not the cost, of international education for my children around the world. I was always fortunate that my government covered the cost of our extraordinary education needs. And I found that the countries that offered the best international education were also the best centers of foreign direct investment and important platforms for international diplomacy and civic society activity. Estonia has one truly comprehensive, but small international school, and ongoing ambitions in global business, government, and civic endeavors. Twenty years into Estonia’s amazing growth as a free, independent, prosperous, and highly modern nation, now is the time to decide whether the country is interested in supporting and sustaining its unique international education platform for the long-term.
Read a piece in the New York Times of June 12, 2011, entitled: U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors. Great story. Great reading. The ultimate point of the article is freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom to participate in the 21st century communications revolution – the internet and all other forms of wireless communications technology.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made the vigorous defense of internet freedom a central element of U.S. foreign policy. This policy has nothing to do with a fascination with modern communications technology (although it is cool!) The policy is based on the simple realization that values first embraced by the young United States more than 200 years ago have found a new medium of electronic transmission. It bridges distances, borders, cultural differences, political repression and violence, and virtually all other obstacles, to lend a voice to freedom, a voice to people in many parts of the world who have been silenced for too long. “Let freedom ring!” has become “Let freedom byte!” That is of course why repressive regimes everywhere do what they can to control or even shut down internet access to anyone who opposes them. And that is why those of us who live in freedom must do the opposite by insisting on preserving unfettered internet access to all. The June 12 NYT article notes that is exactly what a group of smart geeks is up to.
So here is another great way for smart Americans and smart Estonians to work together in support of shared values! Soon after arriving in Estonia more than a year and a half ago, I invited this country’s IT community to work on internet freedom hard and software. Let me reissue this invitation. Please read the NYT article Estonia and lend your considerable IT prowess to liberation technology.
I understand there is a bit of concern among some in Estonia regarding the country’s past, current and future performance in cyber defense. There has also been some implication that Estonia may not have been nearly as prepared as it should have been when the 2007 large scale denial of service attack ocurred. Some may even argue that Estonia talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk of cyber protection. I disagree. This country has done exceedingly well in dealing with a rather new threat that is now on many countries’ strategic planning agenda — after Estonia. In 2007 Estonians not only overcame a unique challenge on their own, but they also learned a great deal and went about planning for future cyber security. And with the establishment of the NATO Cyber Defense Center of Excellence and the creation of Estonia’s Cyber Defense League, our allies in Tallinn have done much more than just help themselves. The U.S. will join the NATO Center this year to share even more in the common effort of a growing number of Alliance countries to build the NATO cyber defense strategy agreed at the Lisbon NATO Foreign Minister’s meeting last November. In addition, the strong relationship between Estonia’s National Guard and our Maryland National Guard is yielding solid bilateral results, among them the appreciation of the public-private sector community of purpose in protecting civilian as well as governmental infrastructure from cyber attack. Now, do we all have more to learn and more actions to take? Of course. As information technology and its applications in our daily lives advance and change at lightening speed, so does the capacity of criminal actors to disrupt our societies using these tools. But when it comes to hands-on cyber defense, both Estonia and the United States remain committed and capable of maintaining leadership roles.
Since my arrival in Estonia nearly a year ago, I have made support for innovation in collaboration between my country and Estonia a signature theme. I have visited long-established, as well as new, entrepreneurs to learn of their ideas and projects, their successes and their challenges. From mobile law enforcement drug testing devices to new e-governance tools; from business management software to high-tech fabrics sewn into safety clothing articles; Estonia is an obvious partner for equally inventive Americans seeking to build better “mouse traps.” Technology, by itself, tends to be neutral. New things will be invented as long as humans walk the earth. But what use we put technology to is anything but neutral. We can use it well, or we can use it to devastating effect.
In Estonia and in the United States information and communications technology and the use of cyber space are among the hottest fields of research and development. A few weeks ago I spoke to an audience at Tallinn’s IT College about cyber security, including the cyber attack Estonia has had to suffer several years ago. Today I wrote an op-ed about the recent highly dangerous and irresponsible breach of communications security of purported U.S. diplomatic reporting. Unfortunately, modern technology has aided in this dispicable act. Those responsible claim they seek to inform, but instead are causing serious harm to individuals and to a good nation, whose representatives are working hard around the world to keep its citizens and its friends — sometimes even its adversaries — safe. Bottom line: technology puts amazing new tools into our hands that can make our lives better, longer, more exciting, and to protect us from harm. But in those same hands, technology can also be misused to hurt. Harnessing innovations and technology only for doing good and defending ourselves effectively from their misuse still often illudes us.
At first I didn’t believe it. Then I was surprised. And finally it simply made sense. An Estonian colleague in our Embassy told me that Estonian emergency services can be reached by dialing “911”, just like in the United States. ” But isn’t your number ‘112’, I asked. Yes, was the answer, but since so many Estonians are familiar with the U.S. emergency telephone number from the news, movies, books and other exposure to our country, when dialling “911” in Estonia, you are simply switched into the local standard “112” network.
My wife and I sadly observed a foreign tourist in medical distress in Tallinn’s Old Town last weekend and saw how quickly emergency help arrived, first by bicycle and then by ambulance. Impressive! I couldn’t help but wonder whether the emergency medical team arrived from a “911” or a “112” call. But clearly it would have made made no difference in this incredible efficient and practical country where so many things just work without much fuss and formality! And Estonia doesn’t just answer “911” at home. It courageously and competently answers international calls for help from Iraq to Afghanistan and from Kosovo to Haiti and Pakistan. I hope to continue to stay out of trouble as much as humanly possible in my life, but if I do get into difficulty, I hope I am near an Estonian phone.