Internet giants gather for freedom of speech – Global Network Initiative

By EDRi · November 5, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google confirmed on 28 October 2008 having signed up
for the Global Network Initiative (GNI), an organisation aimed at preserving
free speech on the Internet.

GNI members are bound to challenge governments against requests for
disclosure of private data if they consider the requests are in breach of
international human rights laws. GNI is meant to give guidance and a set of
procedures to technology companies in view of providing freedom of
expression and privacy in countries where there are privacy issues.

The creation of the initiative was facilitated by the Center for Democracy
and Technology and the Business for Social Responsibility and, besides the
three giant companies, GNI includes several human rights organisations such
as Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights First, the Committee to
Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights in China.

“This initiative is the result of two years of discussions with other
leading technology companies, human rights organizations, socially
responsible investors and academic institutions. Thanks to hard work and
cooperation from all parties, the Initiative sets the kinds of standards and
practices that all companies and groups should use when governments threaten
internationally recognized rights to free expression and privacy.

The Global Network Initiative also offers an important commitment from all
parties to take action together to promote free expression and protect
privacy in the use of all information and communication technologies. We
know that common action by these diverse groups is more likely to bring
about change in government policies than the efforts of any one company or
group acting alone” wrote Andrew McLaughlin, Google Director of Public
Policy and Government Affairs on a Google blog post.

The Internet companies and search engines have been criticised in the past
for having provided certain governments with private information on the
online activities of citizens and political opponents. The most debated case
was that of Yahoo which was revealed in 2006 to have provided information
to Chinese officials on the online activities of Chinese political
opponents. The action led to the imprisonment of the respective Chinese
activists. Yahoo commits now to help in protecting the freedom of speech on
the Internet.

“Yahoo was founded on the belief that access to information can enrich
people’s lives, and the principles we unveil today reflect our determination
that our actions match our values around the world. (…) These principles
provide a valuable roadmap for companies like Yahoo operating in markets
where freedom of expression and privacy are unfairly restricted” stated
Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s CEO and co-founder.

By GNI principles, companies commit to opposing such requests from
Governments even if they are in agreement with the domestic laws. “When
required to restrict communications or remove content, participating
companies will challenge the government in domestic courts or seek the
assistance of relevant government authorities, international human rights
bodies or non-governmental organizations when faced with a government
restriction that appears inconsistent with domestic law or procedures or
international human rights laws and standards on freedom of expression.”

The principles however say that not every request is to be challenged as
this would be “neither practical nor desirable” and the companies have the
option to select cases in terms of certain criteria “such as the potential
beneficial impact on freedom of expression, the likelihood of success, the
severity of the case, cost, the representativeness of the case and whether
the case is part of a larger trend.” Also, the companies will “assess the
human rights risks associated with the collection, storage, and retention of
personal information in the jurisdictions where they operate and develop
appropriate mitigation strategies to address these risks.”

GNI members will submit themselves to independent audits for the compliance
with GNI principles.

Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google sign privacy pact, vow to fight for human
rights (29.10.2008)

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Forge Free Speech Pact (PC Magazine) (28.10.2008)

Diverse Coalition Launches New Effort to Respond to Government Censorship
and Threats to Privacy (28.10.2008)


New steps to protect free expression and privacy around the world