The full Condoleezza Rice letter to the EU over Net governance

I have finally got hold of the letter from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the EU in November that outlined in no uncertain terms how seriously the US was taking the Internet governance issue – and how determined it was to stick with the status quo.

While it is obviously direct, it may be hard for most people to appreciate the strength of the letter. We are talking about the secretary of state for one country sending an official letter to the foreign secretary of another, acting as foreign secretary to the entire European Union.

These letters are not only very rare, they are always written in diplomatic language where in many senses you have to read between the lines to understand what someone is saying, so important is it not to offend different countries.

The greatest example of this is in the last sentence where Rice says “we ask the European Union to reconsider its new position on Internet governance”. “Ask” is extremely strong language in this context. Normally, the EU would be asked to “review” or “consider” or other such respectful language.

The end result of this letter was that the EU backed away from its position at the World Summit in Tunis, and the status quo continued as is. A very big global fight was fought, the US won and this was the letter that made that difference.

Here it is in full:

7 November 2005


The Right Honourable Jack Straw MP,
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs,

Dear Foreign Secretary,

The governance structure and continued stability and sustainability of the Internet are of paramount importance to the United States. The Internet has become an essential infrastructure for global communications, including for global trade and commerce, and therefore we firmly believe that support for the present structures for Internet governance is vital. These structures have proven to be a reliable foundation for the robust growth of the Internet we have seen over the course of the last decade.

As we approach the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), we should underscore the vast potential of the Internet for global economic expansion, poverty alleviation, and for improving health, education and other public services, particularly in the developing world where Internet access remain unacceptably low.

The Internet will reach its full potential as a medium and facilitator for global economic expansion and development in an environment free from burdensome intergovernmental oversight and control. The success of the Internet lies in its inherently decentralized nature, with the most significant growth taking place at the outer edges of the network through innovative new applications and services. Burdensome, bureaucratic oversight is out of place in an Internet structure that has worked so well for many around the globe. We regret the recent positions on Internet governance(i.e., the “new cooperation model”) offered by the European Union, the Presidency of which is currently held by the United Kingdom, seems to propose just that – a new structure of intergovernmental control over the Internet.

The four principles the United States issues on June 30, 2005, reinforce the continuing U.S. commitment to the Internet’s security and stability, including through the historical U.S. role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file. At that time, we also expressed our support for ICANN as the appropriate private sector technical coordinator of the Internet’s domain name and addressing system. We believe that ICANN is dedicated to achieving broad representation of global Internet communities and to developing policy through consensus-based processes. We have also expressed our interest in working with the international community to address legitimate public policy and sovereignty concerns with respect to country code top-level domains (ccTLD). We wish to underscore that, in our statement of June 30, we supported ongoing dialogue on issues related to Internet governance across international forums.

The United States and the European Union have long worked together toward the goal of global access to the Internet. The WSIS offers us the opportunity to reaffirm our partnership to spread the benefits of the Internet globally. At the same time, the security and stability of the Internet are essential to the United States, the European Union, and to the world. We firmly believe that the existing Internet system balances the stability and security we need with the innovation and dynamism that private sector leadership provides.

The history of the Internet’s extraordinary growth and adaptation , based on private-sector innovation and investment, offers compelling arguments against burdening the network with a new intergovernmental structure for oversight. It also suggests that a new intergovernmental structure would most likely become an obstacle to global Internet access for all our citizens. It is in this spirit that we ask the European Union to reconsider its new position on Internet governance and work together with us to bring the benefits of the Information Society to all.


Carlos M. Guiterrez
Secretary of Commerce

Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State

  1. […] In the end, the UK/EU stepped away from its position when the issue became of such domestic importance that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally sent a letter to UK foreign secretary Jack Straw warning the EU off. And so the US retained its role, much to many people’s clear irritation. […]

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