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Keynote Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo at the Tallinn Digital Summit


Good morning everyone. It is great to be here with all of you at the Tallinn Digital Summit. 

Good morning everyone. It’s great to be here with all of you at the Tallinn Digital Summit. Thank you Mr. IIves for that kind introduction, and thank you Prime Minister Kallas for hosting this event.

I’m also grateful to President Kaljulaid, ministers, and the people of Estonia for inviting us all to your beautiful country.

It’s an honor to be speaking alongside President Michel, Secretary General Cormann, and Executive Vice President Dombrovskis.

I think it’s befitting that we’re having this discussion at the Tallin Creative Hub, a symbol of Estonia’s transformation from a Soviet republic to a digital pioneer in the 30 years since its independence. Prior to my current role as Commerce Secretary, I was Governor of Rhode Island, a state that is approximately the same size as Estonia.

I’ve deeply admired Estonia’s achievements: ranking first in Europe for employee participation and competitiveness, and third in terms of number of start-ups per capita.

Today I’d like to discuss how we can replicate Estonia’s digital transformation globally, tapping into the full benefits of the 21st century economy by strengthening our digital connectivity and building upon our shared values and common interests.

Our esteemed hosts know the importance of this agenda all too well. Estonia has harnessed the benefits of connectivity to serve their citizens better than anyone, with one of the most advanced e-government systems in the world.

Through their e-Residency program, Estonia has made almost all of its government services accessible to citizens and residents online. Almost all interactions between citizens and the state can be virtual.

This digital infrastructure proved critical during the pandemic – Estonia’s citizens maintained access to vital services and its economy is recovering quickly.

In fact, Estonia’s recovery was so strong, the country posted the strongest GDP growth in the EU for Q1. For the rest of us, the COVID pandemic exposed how essential connectivity is to our everyday lives – from manufacturing to healthcare, jobs and education.

Over the past 18 months, many businesses moved their operations online and many schools switched to remote learning − making strong digital connectivity more necessary than ever.

For too many Americans, lack of affordable internet meant that students living in underserved communities couldn’t attend online classes. Families had to rely on expensive cellular data, via their mobile phones, to get online.

Shops and restaurants that didn’t have an online presence had to adjust immediately, or risk going out of business. This lack of connectivity was so acute that we recently passed a bipartisan infrastructure deal that invests a historic $65 billion to expand broadband to millions of Americans.

But the need for this investment is not isolated to the United States – nearly 3.7 billion people around the world lack access to broadband.

Affordable access to high-speed broadband is critical to the growth of all our economies.

That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration committed to working with our like-minded partners to close this digital divide at home and abroad. One way in which we can do that is by supporting institutions on the front lines of increasing broadband connectivity — like the International Telecommunications Union.

ITU’s Development Sector has been doing phenomenal work in this space under the direction of Doreen Bogdan-Martin. The United States strongly supports her candidacy for Secretary-General of ITU to carry this important work forward.

But lack of access to broadband is only part of the problem.

The creativity and skills that underpin Estonia’s transformation into a global tech powerhouse are exactly what we need to address the dangerous infrastructure investment gap facing low- and middle-income countries.

At President Biden’s direction, we are leading the effort, along with our G7 partners and the EU, to close this gap across a range of areas – including healthcare and digital technology – through the Build Back Better World (B3W) Partnership.

The United States is mobilizing its development finance tools and working with our partners to leverage private-sector capital and make investments that empower low-and middle-income countries to participate in the modern economy.

And we will work together to ensure that our efforts are fully aligned with the specific needs and interests of each country.

In addition, the Blue Dot Network’s certification mechanism for quality infrastructure projects will be a key part of that agenda.

However, full digital connectivity means more than addressing serious infrastructure challenges – it means recognizing that today’s innovation increasingly depends on data flows.

Governments need cross-border data for trade and commercial relationships, financial market stability, public health, criminal investigations, and national security.

And for businesses to bring value to their customers, they also need information about their customers. They need real-time information about their operations on the ground in markets around the world.

It’s what keeps our businesses and economies competitive.

Citizens also benefit from and rely on data flows. And at the same time, they need to trust that their information is handled safely, securely, and lawfully.

But requirements to keep data in-country hurt all of our businesses and citizens.

For example, when global banks do not have access to their data from around the world, they’re less able to spot malicious trends and fraudulent activity. That leaves local banks and domestic financial systems vulnerable to those very real – and very expensive – threats.

So, data localization not only limits the ability of companies to do business overseas and imposes significant operational costs, but ultimately doesn’t provide meaningful data protection or privacy.

The global economy urgently needs an international framework that is interoperable and scalable.

We must work together to bridge our regulatory differences through multilateral cooperation and summits like this one, rather than relying on unilateral actions.

These forums help foster trust between our governments, businesses, and citizens.

We all have different perspectives about the best approaches to address our connectivity challenges and cross-border data flows.

But there is far more we share in common.

We all recognize that data flows are essential to our economies.

We all agree that connectivity helps drive innovation.

And we all value privacy and data protection.

Bridging the gaps between our data protection systems requires that we build upon those commonalities − together.

A critical step toward interoperability is through the OECD Initiative on Trusted Government Access to Personal Data Held by the Private Sector.

We highly commend the OECD and Secretary General Cormann’s leadership on this vital initiative, and urge our partners to work with us to finalize a concrete outcome.

Joint efforts like these, among like-minded partners, lay the foundation for enhanced interoperability that benefits all of our economies.

And let me be clear: we don’t need to have the same systems or privacy laws to be interoperable with one another − we just need to develop principles and frameworks that allow our approaches to complement, not contradict, each other.

For example, the United States backs the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules System, or CBPR, because it facilitates consistent requirements across jurisdictions with different legal requirements. This system ensures that data is shared responsibly and securely.

And it achieves all that while respecting national sovereignty and differences between domestic privacy laws.

This is what interoperability is all about – and it must be at the center of our efforts for global digital connectivity. As we work towards our shared goal of interoperability, we must continue addressing other pressing digital issues, like a new regime for transatlantic data transfers.

We share a deep commitment to individual privacy—on both sides of the Atlantic. And I am confident that by working together, alongside the European Union, we will reach a durable resolution on an enhanced Privacy Shield framework that benefits us all. I’ll conclude with this.

I spoke a lot today about the benefits of digital connectivity − for our economies and our businesses. But it’s really about much more than just economics.

At the center of our cooperation are shared democratic values: including individual liberty, transparent governance − and yes − privacy. We should look at interoperability between our systems as an outgrowth of our shared values. 

We must not allow our differences to hold us back, because we have far too much to achieve together in the months ahead. Now more than ever, we must double down on our partnerships, our collaboration, and our shared values. The United States looks forward to strengthening those partnerships with all of you to expand our global digital connectivity and data flows so all of our citizens can prosper, and fully participate, in the 21st century global economy.

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your summit!