Remarks by AIT Director W. Brent Christensen at Taiwan Internet Governance Forum

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November 12, 2020

Remarks by AIT Director W. Brent Christensen at Taiwan Internet Governance Forum
November 11, 2020

  (as prepared for delivery)


National Communications Commission (NCC) Chairperson Chen, Digital Minister Tang, Minister without Portfolio Lo, ICANN Chairman Botterman, TWNIC CEO Huang, TWIGF Chairman Wu, distinguished guests and friends, wu an!

It is my great pleasure to speak to you all at the Taiwan Internet Governance Forum’s annual meeting, entitled “One World, One Internet?”

Indeed, as the Internet evolves and new network technologies blur the line between the physical world and the virtual, now is the time as a multi-stakeholder community to take stock of the rising challenges to the global, open Internet.  Together, we must decide how we can ensure emerging technologies are governed to reflect our shared values and to protect data, privacy, and human rights.

In looking at the schedule planned for the next two days, whether it is cybersecurity and public-private cooperation, data sovereignty, or 5G, it strikes me that the topics at hand are also those that are at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.

As 2020 marked the rollout of commercial 5G networks in Taiwan, I would like to take the opportunity to talk about the United States’ own efforts to ensure the security and reliability of these emerging networks.

First, let me be clear: The United States advocates for a vibrant digital economy worldwide that enables all people to benefit from the promise of 5G wireless networks.  5G networks will touch every aspect of our lives and economy, including critical infrastructure such as transportation, electrical distribution, and telemedicine.

At the same time, the United States is deeply concerned about the dangers of networks that can be manipulated, disrupted, or controlled by authoritarian governments that have no democratic checks and balances and no regard for human rights, privacy, or international norms.  In 5G networks, sensitive information will be stored and analyzed on all parts of the network – the core and the edge – so we need to pay special attention to how we secure the physical infrastructure of the networks themselves.

The new and distinct security challenges posed by 5G networks mean countries, companies, and citizens must not allow untrustworthy vendors to control any parts of a 5G network.  Untrusted, high-risk vendors don’t need a back door—they have front doors through software updates and patches to insert malicious code or skim data.

In light of these challenges, earlier this year U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced the Clean Network program, which is a comprehensive approach to address the long-term threats to data privacy, security, human rights, and trusted collaboration posed to the free world from malign actors such as the Chinese Communist Party.  It is rooted in internationally accepted digital trust standards and represents the execution of a multi-year, enduring strategy built on a coalition of trusted partners.

Taiwan is a model for how to protect 5G networks, having taken steps as early as 2011 to limit, and ultimately remove, Huawei from its telecommunications networks.  We welcome Taiwan’s recent decision to go a step further and require a 5G Clean Path for its overseas official communications, and congratulate all of Taiwan’s largest telecom companies for being certified as Clean Carriers.

Taiwan is not alone.  To-date more than 30 countries, territories, and telecommunications carriers have taken strong steps to secure their 5G networks from untrusted vendors.

However, the threats posed by untrusted vendors are not limited to 5G—they are present across the full information and telecommunications (ICT) spectrum.  We encourage Taiwan and other likeminded countries to think about how to protect other aspects of your ICT infrastructure from untrusted vendors, including your subsea cables and cloud service providers.

We are proud to stand with Taiwan, a truly reliable partner, to publicly proclaim our shared values and close cooperation on 5G Security and ensuring the Internet remains a free, democratic, and global platform.

We often describe our partnership with the phrase “Real Friends, Real Progress” (真朋友,真進展) and our mutual support of democratic governance of the Internet perfectly illustrates this concept.

In closing, I would like to congratulate Taiwan for its championship of an open, democratic Internet.  We look forward to continued collaboration over the years to come.

Thank you