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WASHINGTON: Amid a rise in authoritarian governments such as Russia cracking down on access to digital information, the United States on Thursday will join with more than 50 countries in launching an initiative to protect an open, safe internet.

Labeled the Declaration for the Future of the Internet (DFI), the White House said the aim is to reclaim “the immense promise” of the internet, pushing back against “rising digital authoritarianism” to ensure it reinforces democracy, protects privacy and promotes a free global economy.

That goal is threatened by more cases of governments repressing free speech and access to news, spreading misinformation or throttling the internet altogether, the declaration says.

Pointing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a senior administration official said in recent months Moscow “has aggressively promoted disinformation at home and abroad, censored internet news sources, blocked or shut down legitimate sites” and attacked internet access in Ukraine.

“Russia, however, is hardly alone,” the official said, citing China as well.

More than 55 countries have joined the effort, including advanced nations like Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan, along with others like Argentina, Cyprus, Kenya, Montenegro and Slovenia, as well as Ukraine.

While not legally binding, the declaration establishes “fundamental principles” and “commits governments to promoting an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet for the world,” another senior administration official said.

The effort aims to combat the splintering of the internet, but will “respect regulatory autonomy” of each country, the official said.

The declaration also points to the need ensure affordable access for underserved groups.

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