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Issues

The Global Network Initiative publishes statements and resources on a regular basis to highlight trends and issues of concern for all stakeholders in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. As a multi-stakeholder initiative, GNI draws on the collective expertise of our members and on our cumulative experience in the global implementation of the GNI Principles. 

First Independent Assessments of GNI Founding Companies Completed

Date: 
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 09:49
The three founding Global Network Initiative (GNI) companies—Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!—have undergone the first independent assessments to determine how they are implementing their GNI commitments so far. This was the world's first independent assessment of corporate policies and procedures in the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) industry to address freedom of expression and privacy rights.
 
These assessments demonstrate that the companies are putting into place the necessary policies and processes to implement the GNI Principles. The non-company participants, including civil society organizations, responsible investors and academics experts, found the process rigorous and credible. The companies found the use of independent assessors a useful learning process in refining their policies and procedures. Although challenges remain, the findings and subsequent discussions lay the basis for further improvements. The companies expressed determination to continue to develop their practices and work with all participants in the process.
 
Further detail about the assessments will be contained in GNI's second annual report to be published in Spring 2012.
 
GNI is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. GNI provides resources for ICT companies to help them address difficult issues related to freedom of expression and privacy that they may face anywhere in the world. GNI has created a framework of principles and a confidential, collaborative approach to working through challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector.

GNI Statement on Protecting Intellectual Property and Upholding Free Expression and Innovation Online

Date: 
Friday, January 20, 2012 - 17:33

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) welcomes the decision by Congressional leaders to postpone immediate consideration of proposed intellectual property legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives. GNI supports the goal of protecting intellectual property online, but we firmly believe that the approach used in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect-IP (PIPA) is flawed and poses an unacceptable threat to global online freedom of expression and innovation.

We are encouraged by the worldwide outpouring of concern around these issues and urge Congress to adopt an inclusive and transparent approach as it considers how legislation might effectively protect intellectual property and uphold fundamental rights to free expression online. As the U.S. government considers alternative measures, the companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics that make up GNI collectively recommend a transparent approach that not only includes content and Internet companies, but also civil society organizations and representatives of the users of the Internet.  

The interconnected nature of the Internet means that a well-intended but narrow effort to address one set of problems can have serious unintended consequences on the integrity of the Internet and the rights of its users. Crafting effective legislation on technology requires the engagement of diverse stakeholders, especially those with deep understanding of both technical and human rights considerations.

The global implications of U.S. legislation merit particular attention, as laws and policies developed in Washington can serve as precedent or justification for those of other countries, with the potential to undermine the Internet’s capacity as a tool for protecting and advancing fundamental freedoms. With this in mind, we encourage the careful assessment of the global impact of proposed legislative provisions on human rights, especially freedom of expression and privacy.

GNI is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. GNI provides resources for ICT companies to help them address difficult issues related to freedom of expression and privacy that they may face anywhere in the world. GNI has created a framework of principles and a confidential, collaborative approach to working through challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector.

Open Letter on Freedom of Expression, Intellectual Property and H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act

Date: 
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 17:16

On 15 November 2011, GNI wrote to the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives about freedom of expression, intellectual property and H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. The text of the letter is below.

Dear Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Conyers,
 
The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is concerned that provisions of the proposed U.S. law H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and related legislation could have dangerous unintended consequences for freedom of expression and economic innovation in the U.S. and around the world. The protection of intellectual property rights on the Internet is an important concern for the companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics that constitute GNI. But GNI believes it is possible to craft legislation that promotes economic innovation, protects intellectual property, and safeguards human rights all at the same time.  

As Congress moves forward in its consideration of measures to curb copyright infringement, we urge lawmakers to consider carefully the potential global human rights ramifications of SOPA and other legislation being considered by Congress. Proposed bills should narrowly tailor the measures used to enforce intellectual property, so as not to broadly impact lawful expression or use of legitimate communications tools.
 
GNI is particularly concerned by the new powers that SOPA would give to both the U.S. government and private rightsholders, as well as the technical methods of filtering that would restrict the free flow of information around the world. SOPA imposes new responsibilities on websites and Internet intermediaries, effectively obliging them to proactively monitor and police the information their users publish or transmit in order to avoid costly litigation or government action.

In shaping this legislation, we urge Congress to ensure that free speech and due process rights of individuals are respected, and to shape a regime worthy of imitation and that Congress would be comfortable having mirrored by other governments. It is critically important that Congress avoid measures that could erode free expression norms in a way that would set dangerous precedent for other countries considering similar measures, and make it more difficult for companies everywhere to resist surveillance and censorship demands that infringe upon individual rights.

While the GNI supports the goal of protecting intellectual property rights, we ask that the U.S. Congress fully consider the unintended consequences that the provisions of SOPA could inflict on the free flow of information and economic innovation. We look forward to working constructively with the Committee and other interested members as legislation on this important issue moves forward.   

Sincerely,
 

Susan Morgan
Executive Director of the Global Network Initiative

GNI is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector. GNI provides resources for ICT companies to help them address difficult issues related to freedom of expression and privacy that they may face anywhere in the world. GNI has created a framework of principles and a confidential, collaborative approach to working through challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector.

GNI at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference

Date: 
Friday, October 28, 2011 - 17:02

As entrepreneurs, engineers, and activists gathered in San Francisco, California for the inaugural Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference on October 25-26, 2011, the work of the Global Network Initiative was “at the center of debate” according to Politico, and repeatedly highlighted as a crucial component of wider efforts to manage the human rights implications of new technologies.

The conference, organized by Access, brought together speakers from corporations, governments, and civil society, but most notably featured activists on the frontlines of the global human rights struggle. Egyptian blogger Alaa abd el Fattah, targeted for his activism by the Egyptian military, challenged companies to think about practical things they can do in the face of government requests such as the internet shutdown in Egypt. “If you hear of plans or orders you don’t like, go to court, ask for due process,” he said. Journalist Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, currently facing a possible penalty of 20 years in prison for not moving fast enough to remove user comments from her website that allegedly defamed the Thai monarchy, called for collective action to amend the harsh intermediary liability laws in Thailand.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner specifically highlighted GNI, noting “this group has wrestled collectively with the thorniest issues of the day.” GNI Board Secretary Bennett Freeman explicitly challenged companies to join GNI, saying “This is the moment we must grasp. This is the time when companies have to step up and be responsive.”

GNI board members Rebecca MacKinnon and Bob Boorstin also gave keynote presentations, and GNI staff, board members, and participants led workshops on a wide range of topics, from incorporating human rights "by design" to social networks. GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan presented on the GNI and the implementation of UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights. Cynthia Wong from the Center for Democracy and Technology moderated the panel on intermediary liability. 

Learn more about the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference.

GNI announces workshop at IGF 2011 in Nairobi

Date: 
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 16:15

The Global Network Initiative is pleased to announce it will be hosting a workshop at the 6th Annual Internet Governance Forum 2011, held September 27th-30th at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya. GNI would like to welcome all those interested to attend the workshop, entitled "The Business of Human Rights: Corporate Responsibility and ICTs".

This workshop will discuss:

  • The impact and implications of public discourse taking place on private networks
  • How human rights risks may arise in the provision of ICT products and services
  • Strategies some ICT companies have adopted to promote the free flow of information, protect privacy, and minimize possible risk to human rights of their users
  • The value of a multi-stakeholder approach to finding solutions to these challenges
  • More about the work of GNI

The workshop will be moderated by Dele Olojede, publisher of NEXT, NextOnSunday and 234NEXT.com and Chair of GNI’s Advisory Board. Panelists will include:

  • Pedro Less Andrade, Senior Policy Counsel, Google Latin America
  • Dan Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, US State Department
  • Eduardo Bertoni, Director of the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) at Palermo University School of Law, Argentina
  • Susan Morgan, Executive Director, The Global Network Initiative
  • Brett Solomon, Executive Director and co-founder, Access

Where and When: The GNI workshop is scheduled for September 28th, at 14:30 – 16:00, in workshop room 9 (conference room 4). See the IGF website for the latest schedule of workshops.

About the IGF: The Internet Governance Forum is an international conference for multi-stakeholder dialogue on policy issues surrounding the Internet. The IGF was begun by a mandate in the United Nations’ 2005 Tunis Agenda for the Information Society. Registration is open until September 9th; for more information visit: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/

GNI Statement in Response to Violence in London

Date: 
Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 17:08

In his response to the violent unrest in the UK over the past week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the government is considering whether it would be right to place limits on social media access in certain cases. While criminality and violence deserve condemnation and prosecution under the full extent of the law, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) urges the British government to consider the domestic and global ramifications for civil liberties and human rights as it develops specific proposals. 

Both policymakers and technology companies must consider the global consequences of their decisions, beyond the country specific pressures of the moment.

While the first duty of a government is to protect its citizens and public safety, it should do so in ways consistent with other fundamental rights, including internationally recognized standards of freedom of expression and privacy.

A UK government response to violence that erodes legal due process or demonstrates a lack of respect for internationally recognized human rights and free speech norms could make it more difficult for Internet and telecommunications companies everywhere to resist surveillance and censorship requests of governments that infringe user rights.

Similarly, information technology companies must uphold core, universal principles on free expression and privacy to ensure their users and customers rights are protected. The GNI’s articulation of these principles, based on widely recognized international human rights standards can be found at:

http://www.globalnetworkinitiative.org/principles/index.php

The relationship between people, government and society in all its forms is increasingly mediated by information technology and online services, including online platforms, news outlets, and the networks and equipment that are at the core. This new reality creates complex challenges regarding the responsibilities of users, civil society, and governments - and in particular the social responsibilities of information and communication technology (ICT) companies. The GNI urges all actors to avoid panic and hasty actions likely to erode public trust in government and companies, and instead rise to the new challenges of the Internet age with foresight and wisdom.

GNI is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. GNI provides resources for ICT companies to help them address difficult issues related to freedom of expression and privacy that they may face anywhere in the world. GNI has created a framework of principles and a confidential, collaborative approach to working through challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector.

GNI statement on UN Work on the Human Right of Freedom of Expression

Date: 
Friday, August 5, 2011 - 16:00

On the 28th of July, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations approved a new “General Comment” of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving clear guidance on the legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression that states can make.

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) welcomes reference to how developments in Information and Communications Technologies, specifically the Internet and mobile devices, have substantially transformed communication around the world and the responsibility of states to ensure access to these services.

This recent document follows other important steps from the UN and other intergovernmental organizations in recent months:

1. The endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights developed by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie. These Guiding Principles carry forward the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework unanimously welcomed by the Human Rights Council in 2008.

 

2. The report released by Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, which considers some of the key issues such as intermediary liability and the protection of privacy. This report attracted a cross regional statement of support by over 40 governments including representatives from Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia

 

3. The joint declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

 

4. A UNESCO released publication covering not only the state of free expression but also the interrelationship between free expression and economic and development issues and how reducing the digital divide could support freedom of expression.

    As an initiative providing a framework for company decision making on these issues based on internationally recognized laws and standards for human rights, GNI looks forward to the continued work of the UN and other multilateral institutions.

    GNI Concerned About Lack of Transparency and Accountability in YouTube Censorship (UPDATE: April 1, 2009)

    Date: 
    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - 17:00

    UPDATE: April 1, 2009 - YouTube has been blocked again in China. After being temporarily unblocked on Sunday and Monday (China time), YouTube was blocked again starting Monday, March 30 late in the day PDT. As before, no official explanation has been given for the blockage.

    Additional resources:
    Herdict Web reports – YouTube in China


    //

    Around the globe, government authorities often use legal or technical means to censor information and communications online. The recent blocking of YouTube in China was done without notice to the public or any explanation of the legal basis for the action. Such actions are inconsistent with the rule of law and the right to freedom of expression.

    The Global Network Initiative was formed to help stakeholders in the technology industry uphold global human rights norms in the face of censorship pressures.  The Initiative brings together a broad spectrum of companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics to establish global operational principles for companies to uphold human rights norms, and to collaborate on public policy -- including encouraging governments to be specific, transparent, and mindful of internationally recognized human rights.
     
    Ongoing and recurring incidents around the world have highlighted the need for this Initiative.  Recent blocking in China of the online video site YouTube is one illustrative case of practices that result in inappropriate restrictions on freedom of expression.

    The Chinese government’s statements to date have not provided an explanation of whether YouTube is officially blocked, and if so what content may have violated the law, or on whose authority the blocking was imposed.

    The GNI calls on governments across the world to comply with international human rights standards and the rule of law in using legal process or control of infrastructure to remove or limit access to online information. Governments should only take such action in specific and narrowly defined cases, and should publicly articulate the basis for such action.  

    Freedom of opinion and expression is a human right and guarantor of human dignity. The right to freedom of opinion and expression includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    Broad public access to information and the freedom to create and communicate ideas online are critical to the advancement of knowledge, economic opportunity, and human potential.

    Since 2007, YouTube has been blocked in over a dozen countries. In blocking YouTube, many governments are falling short of human rights principles in troubling ways. Many blocking remedies appear to be broader than necessary to further local law and policy goals.  Such overbroad actions inhibit the exercise of basic human rights to freedom of expression and access to information.  Blocking not only impacts the right of people in that country to speak and access information, but also the right of the world to speak to people in the country imposing the block.   
        
    This incident is only the latest example of increasing threats to freedom of expression around the world. Responding to such threats requires collaboration among a broad spectrum of companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics, working with governments and multilateral organizations that support international human rights and the rule of law.
     

    GNI Responds To Increased Censorship of Online Publishing Services and User Generated Content

    Date: 
    Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 17:00

    In responding to the removal, censorship and blocking of online publishing services – home to increasingly popular user generated content such as blogs, videos and photos – the Global Network Initiative stated today that its participating companies will continue to take steps to minimize the impact on users and the public and to encourage governments to protect the right to freedom of expression.

    Around the globe, government authorities often use legal or technical means to censor information and communication over the Internet. This increasingly means restricting the ability of individuals to publish their own work and express themselves online through personal blogs, the uploading of videos or the sharing of photos and, in turn, the ability of individuals to access such published content.

    The GNI brings together a diverse group of companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics to establish global operational principles for companies to respect human rights, and to collaborate on public policy -- including encouraging governments to allow their citizens to seek, receive and impart information freely.
     
    Ongoing and recurring incidents around the world have highlighted the need for this Initiative. Recent blocking of online video sites and forced removal of blog content or photos by governments are illustrative of practices that can result in inappropriate restrictions on freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas. 

    GNI stated:

    The Global Network Initiative (GNI) believes that responding to restrictions on rights to free expression and access to information requires collaboration among a broad spectrum of companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics, working with governments and multilateral organizations that support international human rights and the rule of law.

    In the case of participating GNI companies who offer or support online publishing services, these companies are committed to taking steps to help advance the free flow of information in responding to blocks or other restrictions on online publishing.  These steps include:

    • Requiring governments to follow established domestic legal processes when they are seeking to restrict freedom of expression, and seek to encourage transparency, due process and rule of law;
    • Interpreting government restrictions and demands so as to minimize the negative effect on freedom of expression, such as removing content only for local markets rather than worldwide.
    • Interpreting the governmental authority’s jurisdiction so as to minimize the negative effect on freedom of expression, such as removing access content only subject to a legally binding notice, or if the content violates the service’s terms of use.


    The full GNI membership will be working collaboratively to help companies follow through on these commitments and to encourage governments around the world to look to international standards, and to be transparent and follow rule of law, when restricting the publication of information and ideas.

    About GNI: http://www.globalnetworkinitiative.org/

    For more information, contact press@globalnetworkinitiative.org.

     

    GNI Principles Offer Guidance to ICT Manufacturing and Software Sector [UPDATE 08.19: Official update on Green Dam]

    Date: 
    Friday, June 12, 2009 - 16:00

    [UPDATE 08.19] Announcement from Chinese official and translation: Green Dam no longer mandatory for general consumers

    The Global Network Initiative is actively monitoring developments regarding the Chinese government’s directive that requires computer manufacturers to install the Green Dam/Youth Escort content control software on personal computers produced or sold in China. This directive is ostensibly intended to protect children from sexually explicit content, but in fact raises significant challenges for companies in the technology sector that also have a responsibility to respect human rights. The Global Network Initiative (GNI) offers a multi-stakeholder forum that provides operational guidance and a credible system for companies to develop effective strategies in response to these challenges.

    Protection of children from exploitation and exposure to inappropriate material online is a legitimate public policy goal, which many countries around the world pursue. This goal can be achieved in ways consistent with international norms protecting the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. For example, public education regarding the availability of a wide variety of user-controlled filtering tools that allow parents and guardians to manage unwanted content in a way that is most appropriate for children under their care. Various companies – including the three company members of GNI – as well as other organizations offer a wide range of such software tools. However, the government mandate to pre-load the Green Dam/Youth Escort software on all PCs produced and sold in China clearly raises human rights concerns that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector must address.

    The GNI Principles are grounded in international human rights standards for freedom of expression and privacy. Under these standards, the right to freedom of expression should not be restricted by governments except in narrowly defined circumstances, consistent with international human rights norms and the rule of law. Importantly, such restrictions should be necessary and proportionate for the relevant purpose.

    Much about how the Green Dam/Youth Escort software functions in practice is yet to be determined and several GNI members are undertaking such an analysis. However, a number of facts about the software have been established that raise human rights concerns.

    The concurrent and cumulative issues that implicate human rights and undermine user choice include the requirement for mandatory installation; the difficulty of uninstalling the software; and filtering that goes beyond sexually explicit or other content inappropriate for children. Results from independent tests of the software reported on Global Voices Online and elsewhere indicate that political content was indeed part of the website library of filtered content. An approach for protecting children online that requires the mandatory installation of a particular software package that is difficult to uninstall and filters far more than sexually explicit content is not consistent with the practices of other countries that have encouraged parental control tools and is far out of proportion to the goal of child protection.

    Public opposition (including a legal challenge) to this software mandate within China is growing. The Chinese press and diverse parts of Chinese civil society have expressed concerns about privacy, security, transparency, consumer choice, and whether the cost of this effort is justifiable. In fact, the government recently clarified that use of the software by citizens is not mandatory in its official media statements. We hope that the domestic reaction within China will encourage the Chinese government to reconsider this mandate more fundamentally.

    Nevertheless, there are many questions unanswered. Are any companies working with the software vendor to try and put the software in the market?  If the government clarifies its directive so that the software is shipped on a disk but not pre-installed, what should companies do to avoid complicity in censorship of political, religious, and cultural information online?  How can governments appropriately protect children from exploitation and exposure to inappropriate material? What steps should companies take to address such requests or directives? Hardware and software design companies will need to have adequate due diligence measures in place to ensure that they are prepared to address these questions in a way that respects fundamental human rights.

    The GNI can help to address those dilemmas since it is a unique organization with the capacity to provide operational guidance on human rights issues in a collaborative setting. In particular, the GNI offers credible, operational guidance for companies, built on extensive experience, guided by a broad set of perspectives, and rooted in international human rights principles. The GNI also offers both technology sector companies and academics, investors, and non-governmental organizations an opportunity for frank discussion, collaboration on matters of public policy and corporate responsibility, and the sharing of expertise. Among the GNI principles and operational guidelines that are relevant to manufacturing and software companies:

    • Participating companies will respect and protect the freedom of expression of their users by seeking to avoid or minimize the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression.
    • Participating companies will employ human rights impact assessments to identify circumstances when freedom of expression and privacy may be jeopardized or advanced, and develop appropriate risk mitigation strategies, e.g., when designing and introducing new technologies, products, and services.
    • GNI participants will engage proactively with governments to reach a shared understanding of how government restrictions can be applied in a manner consistent with human rights norms. Companies will seek modification from authorized officials when government restrictions appear overbroad, not required by domestic law or inconsistent with international human rights standards.
    • Participating companies will give clear, prominent, and timely notice to users when access to content has been limited due to government restrictions.
    • GNI participants acknowledge and support appropriate initiatives that seek to identify, prevent, and limit access to illegal online activity such as child exploitation. Such initiatives raise potential concerns regarding freedom of expression and should therefore be narrowly tailored and subject to the rule of law.

     

    [UPDATE 08.19] Announcement from Chinese official and translation: Green Dam no longer mandatory for general consumers

    On August 13, 2009, Li Yizhong, China’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology, responded to questions about the status of the Green Dam mandate at an official press event:

    "在学校、网吧等公众场合的计算机里,我们还是要装的。对于广大的消费者,充分尊重大家选择的自由,绝不会出现在所有销售的计算机里一律都要强制装上,不存在这个问题。"

    "We are still going to install the software on computers in schools, Internet cafes, and other public venues. As for general consumers, we will fully respect everyone’s freedom of choice, and mandatory pre-installation on all computers sold will definitely not happen; there is no question of that."

    Full transcript:
    尊重消费者选择自由 计算机不会被强制安装“绿坝” (Respect the Consumer’s Freedom of Choice: Computers Will Not Be Forced To Have Green Dam Installed), Official website of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China, August 13, 2009.

    English Translation by Human Rights in China, August 2009.


    [UPDATE 06.25] Additional Resources on Green Dam

    INDEPENDENT RESOURCES AND REPORTS

    China's Green Dam: The Implications of Government Control Encroaching on the Home PC
    By the Open Net Initiative

    Analysis of the Green Dam Censorware System
    By Scott Wolchok, Randy Yao & J. Alex Halderman
    Computer Science and Engineering Division, University of Michigan

    A Technical Analysis of the Chinese 'Green Dam Youth-Escort' Censorship Software
    Wikileaks, An Independent Chinese group report


    INDEPENDENT STATEMENTS AND REACTIONS FROM GNI MEMBERS

    GNI Non-Company Participants

    Center for Democracy & Technology


    China Backs Off Green Dam Filtering Mandate
    June 30, 2009



    Buy a Computer, Get a Firewall… and More?

    June 8, 2009

    Committee to Protect Journalists

    Seeing red over green: China to install censorship software
    June 12, 2009

    Human Rights in China

    Chinese Lawyer Challenges Filtering Software Order and Requests Public Hearing
    June 11, 2009

    Chinese Government Orders Computer Manufacturers to Pre-install Filtering Software
    June 8, 2009

    Human Rights Watch

    China: Filtering Software Challenges Computer Industry: Technology Companies Should Resist Censorship Attempts
    June 19, 2009
    Blogpost from Human Rights Watch

    Open Letter to Computer Makers Regarding Chinese Filtering Software Directive
    Letter sent to Dell, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, and Lenovo Group, Ltd.
    Arvind Ganesan
    Director, Business and Human Rights Program
    Human Rights Watch

    Selection of Coverage by Rebecca MacKinnon

    Green Dam is Breached... Now What?, July 2, 2009

    Green Damned, June 17, 2009

    More Green Dam Documents and Statements, June 12, 2009

    Original government document ordering "Green Dam" software installation, June 8, 2009

    China's "Green Dam Youth Escort" software, June 8, 2009


    GNI Company Participants

    Yahoo!, as quoted in WSJ:

    "Like other global businesses, we will continue analyze international developments that may impact our industry. We strongly support the free flow of information and the right to freedom of expression."
    June 8, 2009

    Kevin Kutz, Director of Public Affairs, Microsoft:

    "Microsoft believes that the availability of appropriate parental control tools is an important societal consideration for industry and governments around the world.  At the same time, Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information and to encouraging transparency, deliberation and restraint with respect to Internet governance.  In this case, we agree with others in industry and around the world that important issues such as freedom of expression, privacy, system reliability and security need to be properly addressed."


    EXTERNAL OBSERVERS

    June 10, 2009
    Op-ed by Michael Shtender-Auerbach,
    Founder and Chief Executive of Social Risks LLC
    "Hardware Risk: China Targets PC Manufacturers"
    Huffington Post

    June 9, 2009
    Public Joint Statement by The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica:

    "The Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association and TechAmerica urge the Chinese government to reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement and would welcome the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. We believe there should be an open and healthy dialogue on how parental control software can be offered in the market in ways that ensure privacy, system reliability, freedom of expression, the free flow of information, security and user choice."

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    2013 Learning Forum in Brussels

    Date: 
    Friday, November 8, 2013 - 10:34

    The Global Network Initiative and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy present their 2013 joint Learning Forum in Brussels, Belgium.

    2013 Learning Forum 
    13 November 2013

    Brussels Marriott Hotel 
    Brussels, Belgium

    Moderated by John Kampfner, this first joint multi-stakeholder learning forum will bring to Brussels an exciting line up of international speakers on cutting-edge issues relating to freedom of expression and privacy rights online:

    09:30 – 10:00     Welcome and introduction to the collaboration between GNI and the Industry Dialogue

    •  Jermyn Brooks, GNI Independent chair
    • Yves Nissim, Industry Dialogue chair

    10:00 – 10:45     The evolving free expression and privacy challenges in the ICT sector 

    What do we now know about communications surveillance and government access to data? What are the human rights implications? How can universal rights be protected when laws and international agreements give different levels of protection based on territoriality or citizenship?

    • Leslie Harris, Center for Democracy and Technology
    • Jeanette Hofmann, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society
    • Marília Maciel, Center for Technology & Society - FGV Law School
    • Dewi van de Weerd, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

    10:45 – 12:15     Free expression and privacy issues across the Atlantic and around the globe

    What are the different challenges in developed and emerging markets? How are the communications surveillance issues highlighted in the last few months having an impact in countries around the world? Are there unique responsibilities for the US given its unique position in the global communications network?

    • William Echikson, Google
    • Elonnai Hickock, Centre for Internet & Society
    • Patrick Hiselius, TeliaSonera 
    • Carina Lundberg Markow, Folksam 
    • Rebecca MacKinnon, New America Foundation 

    For more information about the Learning Forum, please contact David Sullivan at dsullivan@globalnetworkinitiative.org. Please note that the Learning Forum is invitation only. If you have any questions regarding the conference, please contact us by email.

    GNI Applauds Tech Company Letter on Surveillance Reforms

    Date: 
    Friday, November 1, 2013 - 09:36

    The Global Network Initiative applauds the letter sent by six technology companies—including GNI members Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!—to U.S. Senate leaders urging transparency and reforms to government surveillance practices that would include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs.

    GNI believes that legislative reforms should also address the privacy rights of people around the world, not just U.S. citizens. As an international initiative that brings together companies with human rights and press freedom organizations, investors, and academics, we look forward to working with the U.S. Congress and the Executive branch—as well as other governments—to address legitimate security concerns while protecting privacy and freedom of expression.

    GNI Writes to the 21 Governments in the Freedom Online Coalition

    Date: 
    Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 09:47

    The Global Network Initiative has written to the 21 governments in the Freedom Online Coalition, asking them to report on the requests they make for electronic communications surveillance and to make it legally possible for companies to report regularly to the public on the government requests that they receive from law enforcement as well as national security authorities. The letters were sent to senior government officials responsible for foreign affairs, justice, and security, with copies to data protection authorities. Copies were also sent to permanent representatives to the United Nations offices in Geneva, in advance of discussions on human rights and communications surveillance at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council. 

    The Freedom Online Coalition is a group of governments committed to collaborating to advance Internet freedom. The participating countries include: Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Latvia, the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, The Netherlands, Sweden, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

    Presidential and Congressional Steps on Communication Surveillance Programs

    Date: 
    Saturday, August 10, 2013 - 06:06

    The Global Network Initiative welcomes the commitment by President Obama to work with Congress on the reform of section 215 of the Patriot Act and to increase transparency and oversight around communications surveillance programs in the United States.

    The Global Network Initiative is encouraged by the introduction of bills like the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, into the Senate by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and the Surveillance Order Reporting Act, into the House by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The bills would remove legal barriers preventing the U.S. government and companies from disclosing the number of national security requests. This will help enable a thoughtful public debate on human rights and communications surveillance.

    “GNI has called for more transparency as a prerequisite for the necessary informed global public debate on the balance between national security and privacy and freedom of expression rights,” said GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan. “We look forward to working with Congress and the Executive branch to develop even stronger mechanisms to increase transparency and ensure that surveillance programs are subject to internationally recognized human rights laws and standards”.

     

    GNI Comments to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

    Date: 
    Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 10:52

    The Global Network Initiative submitted comments to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) regarding surveillance programs operated pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. 

    Worldwide concerns about U.S. surveillance practices seriously threaten the United States’ reputation as a champion of Internet freedom. Keeping in mind the global leadership role of the United States, we urge the Board to protect the privacy rights of people around the world, not just in the United States, and demand greater transparency on the part of U.S. government agencies. Specifically, we recommend that the Board urge all government agencies to: 

    1. Address the international human rights implications of U.S. communications surveillance programs.
    2. Create a process to declassify significant legal opinions to enable oversight of government actions and inform public debate. 
    3. Revise the provisions that restrict discussion of national security demands. 
    4. Encourage the United States to report on its own surveillance requests.

    Read GNI's comments.

    Opening the Lines: A Call for Transparency from Governments and Telecommunications Companies

    Date: 
    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 18:00

    Executive Summary available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.

    The human rights obligations of telecommunications companies are in the global spotlight in the wake of recent reports about national security-related communications surveillance. Companies committed to respecting free expression and privacy rights should take this opportunity to work with governments to increase transparency according to a new report by the Global Network Initiative.  

    The report, “Opening the Lines: A Call for Transparency from Governments and Telecommunications Companies,” illustrates the types of requirements telecommunications companies face and explores how they can respond to them in ways that respect human rights. Informed by case study review of the laws and regulations governing telecommunications companies in the European Union, and at the national level in Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the report shows that the risks to free expression and privacy in the sector are not limited to the United States. Authored by Chris Tuppen, senior partner of Advancing Sustainability LLP and the former Chief Sustainability Officer at BT, the report makes specific recommendations around how to increase transparency.

    Read the report. 

    New Report Calls for Transparency from Governments and Telecommunications Companies

    Date: 
    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 18:00

    Report Executive Summary available in ArabicChineseFrenchRussian, and Spanish.

    Washington, DC — The human rights obligations of telecommunications companies are in the global spotlight in the wake of recent reports about national security-related communications surveillance. Companies committed to respecting free expression and privacy rights should take this opportunity to work with governments to increase transparency according to a new report released today by the Global Network Initiative.  

    The report, “Opening the Lines: A Call for Transparency from Governments and Telecommunications Companies,” illustrates the types of requirements telecommunications companies face and explores how they can respond to them in ways that respect human rights. Informed by case study review of the laws and regulations governing telecommunications companies in the European Union, and at the national level in Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the report shows that the risks to free expression and privacy in the sector are not limited to the United States. 

    “Governments pursuing legitimate responsibilities for national security and law enforcement face real challenges, but as the worldwide reaction to communications surveillance by the U.S. government makes clear, the necessity and proportionality of surveillance measures are far from resolved,” said GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan. “It’s time for telecommunications companies to demonstrate their commitments to the rights of their users wherever they operate.”  

    The report, authored by Chris Tuppen, senior partner of Advancing Sustainability LLP and the former Chief Sustainability Officer at BT, makes specific recommendations around how to increase transparency. “Telecommunications companies seeking to mitigate their human rights risks have an opportunity to work with governments and other stakeholders to increase transparency in a number of areas, particularly volume of requests made and complied with,” says Tuppen. 

    The report was commissioned prior to GNI entering into a two-year collaboration with eight global companies in the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Privacy and Freedom of Expression, and is not endorsed by the Industry Dialogue companies. 

    Responding to the report Patrik Hiselius, Senior Advisor at TeliaSonera and current Chair of the Industry Dialogue, said: “The Industry Dialogue welcomes GNI’s first report on telecommunications and freedom of expression. The report will help different stakeholders understand the complex operating environment of telecommunications companies and sheds light on some of the challenges in defining the boundaries of responsibility regarding freedom of expression within our sector. We look forward to working together, and with the GNI and its members, to further promoting informed debate and practical solutions to these challenges.”

     ###

    GNI is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. GNI provides resources for ICT companies to help them address difficult issues related to freedom of expression and privacy that they may face anywhere in the world. GNI has created a framework of principles and a confidential, collaborative approach to working through challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector.

    The Global Network Initiative Joins Internet Companies & Advocates to Demand More Transparency Around Government Surveillance

    Date: 
    Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 09:01

    The Global Network Initiative has joined a coalition of technology companies and advocates for free speech and privacy rights to deliver a letter to the US government demanding greater transparency around national security-related surveillance of Internet and telephone communications. Organized by GNI member the Center for Democracy & Technology, the signatories include GNI companies, civil society organizations, and investors among a diverse array of companies and organizations. 

    In the wake of recent revelations about the breadth of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the letter presses both the Obama Administration and Congress to allow Internet and telephone companies to publish general numerical information about the different types of government requests they receive and the number of people affected. The letter further pushes for the government to issue its own “transparency reports” detailing similar information about the scope of its surveillance activities. And a newly launched petition directed at the White House via WeNeedToKnow.info invites the public to add their voice to the call for greater transparency around government surveillance.

    Read coverage of the letter in the New York Times and Washington Post. 

    ThinkProgress: How To Bring More Transparency To U.S. Surveillance Programs

    Date: 
    Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 17:04

    This piece by GNI Policy and Communications Director David Sullivan originally appeared on ThinkProgress:

    There is no shortage of divergent views about the once secret NSA surveillance programs former contractor Edward Snowden allegedly leaked. But there is one point on which even the fiercest critics and staunchest defenders of national security communications surveillance seem to agree: more transparency from the U.S. government is required.

    Whether one views the NSA intelligence programs overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as a shocking privacy breach, business-as-usual for a signal intelligence agency, or a positive example of intelligence oversight, it’s increasingly clear that the public lacks the basic information needed to objectively evaluate the costs and benefits of the status quo.

    With more disclosure, there is an opportunity to assess the human rights risks that may arise from the technological advances in the era of big data. In turn, we can determine through democratic processes the appropriate legal safeguards that should apply to surveillance, and develop international norms to protect the right to privacy across borders.

    Read the full article on ThinkProgress. 

    Transparency, National Security, and Protecting Rights Online

    Date: 
    Friday, June 28, 2013 - 11:14

    In light of recent events, the Global Network Initiative calls on the United States and other governments to increase the transparency, oversight, and accountability of laws, regulations, and actions concerning communications surveillance.  

    GNI Principles and the rule of law 

    GNI’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy are rooted in international human rights law, while also recognizing that companies are compelled to obey domestic law in countries where they operate. 

    GNI does not underestimate the challenge governments face in finding the appropriate balance between security and privacy and free expression. But international human rights standards set out narrowly defined circumstances under which governments may restrict the rights to free expression and privacy.1  

    GNI is particularly concerned by surveillance programs that restrict the right to privacy in the context of inadequate legal safeguards. This is a global problem. Recent statements by U.S. authorities make clear the need for informed public debate on whether legislative and judicial oversight of surveillance that occurs entirely in secret is consistent with international human rights standards and the rule of law. The lack of transparency in the United States around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) interpretations of the FISA Amendments Act and Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, as well as the inability of companies to report on the requests they are receiving, make it difficult for companies operating in the United States to be transparent regarding their efforts to protect free expression and privacy. 

    In light of this we call for three specific actions:

    1) Create a declassification process for significant legal opinions to inform public debate and enable oversight of government actions. 

    GNI supports recently proposed legislation to facilitate declassification of significant legal decisions by the FISC and the FISC Court of Review. We recognize that unclassified summaries of FISC opinions may be necessary in some cases but believe that greater declassification will enable informed public debate as well as improve public oversight of the nature and the scope of the government’s use of FISA authorities. 

    2) Revise the provisions that restrict discussion of national security demands. 

    While understanding the need for confidentiality in matters of national security, GNI is deeply concerned by the nondisclosure obligations imposed on companies who receive FISA orders and National Security Letters (NSLs). These letters effectively and perpetually prohibit companies from reporting even in general terms, after the fact, on the national security demands they receive.  Policymakers should seriously consider reforms that would require government authorities to make a factual showing to the court to demonstrate that harm would result from disclosure, before issuance or renewal of gag orders, or placing a specific time limit on those orders.

    3) Governments—especially those already committed to protecting human rights online—should lead by example and report on their own surveillance requests.

    GNI commends the 21 governments of the Freedom Online Coalition for their commitment to protecting free expression and privacy online and urges other governments to follow their lead. 

    However, the credibility of their efforts ultimately rests on the example they set through their own domestic laws and policies. Contradictions between countries’ domestic surveillance policies and practices and their foreign policy positions on Internet freedom and openness fundamentally undermine their ability to advocate for other governments to support Internet freedom. 

    GNI urges the governments in the Freedom Online Coalition to report on the requests they make for electronic communications surveillance. We also urge them to make it legally possible for companies to report regularly to the public on the government requests that they receive from law enforcement as well as national security authorities. Annual reports, such as the U.S. Wiretap Report and the U.K. Government report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner offer a starting point for more comprehensive disclosure of information about the number of national security surveillance orders made and the number of persons affected. 

    Next steps

    GNI will advocate strongly with all governments, including the U.S., on behalf of these reforms, which are a prerequisite for informed global public debate on the balance between national security and privacy and freedom of expression rights. We view such transparency reforms as necessary first steps in examining whether domestic law adequately protects the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. All governments have a responsibility to work together with the private sector and civil society to determine the narrowly defined circumstances (based on internationally recognized human rights laws and standards) under which surveillance can take place. We will continue to push for this dialogue and press governments to meet their obligation to protect the rights of freedom of expression and privacy for people all over the world.

     

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