Frequently Asked Questions

The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are intended to address key aspects of GNI.

Who is participating in the Global Network Initiative?

GNI is a coalition that includes ICT companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics. The list of participants can be found here.

The goal is for the membership to be global and for company members to be from across the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

What specifically are the participants committing to?

There are three core documents that describe the GNI’s objectives and the key commitments of the participants:

The Principles state the overarching commitment of the GNI’s members to collaborate in the advancement of user rights to freedom of expression and privacy. The Principles provide high-level guidance to the ICT industry on how to respect, protect and advance user rights to freedom of expression and privacy, including when faced with government demands for censorship and disclosure of users’ personal information.

The Principles are intended to have global application and are grounded in international human rights laws and standards including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”).

The Implementation Guidelines provide more detailed guidance to ICT companies on how to put the Principles into practice, and also provide the framework for collaboration among companies, NGOs, investors and academics. The guidelines will be regularly reviewed and revised to take into account actual experience, evolving circumstances and stakeholder feedback.

The Governance, Accountability & Learning Framework sets out a multi-stakeholder governance structure, goals for collaboration and a system of company accountability to support the Principles, maximize opportunities for learning and ensure the integrity and efficacy of the Initiative.

How were the three core documents drafted?

The foundational documents were collaboratively drafted over an 18-month period, from January 2007 through June 2008. The work of key academic institutions, consultations with other stakeholders, and the experiences of other voluntary human rights initiatives influenced the drafting.

What does the Global Network Initiative aim to accomplish?

GNI exists to provide guidance to the ICT industry and its stakeholders on how to protect and advance the human rights of freedom of expression and privacy when faced with pressures from governments to take actions that infringe upon these rights.

GNI seeks to promote the rule of law and the adoption of laws, policies and practices that protect and respect freedom of expression and privacy through collaboration among companies, NGOs, investors and academics.

Ultimately, GNI seeks outcomes consistent with the internationally recognized laws and standards for human rights on freedom of expression and privacy set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”).

GNI’s participants recognize that there are narrow circumstances – described in internationally recognized human rights laws and standards - where societies may responsibly impose limitations on content or engage in surveillance to fight crime, terrorism and exploitation. However, participants are committed to a high-level of due diligence and risk management regarding the demands they receive from government and greater transparency with users about the impact of those demands on freedom of expression and privacy.

How will the Global Network Initiative accomplish its goals?

GNI provides a systemic approach for companies facing government requests to protect the rights to freedom of expression and privacy of their users while respecting legitimate government authority. Over time, the aim is for the Principles and Implementation Guidelines to take root as a global standard for the ICT sector and to be adopted by companies worldwide, employed by diverse stakeholders for advancing human rights, and recognized by governments and international bodies.

By defining shared standards, GNI will support companies in the management of human rights risks and opportunities associated with the provision of ICT products and services globally. The shared standards also provide a systematic approach to resisting efforts by governments to enlist companies in acts of censorship and surveillance that go beyond the law or internationally recognized human rights laws and standards.

Participants recognize that responsible company actions alone cannot guarantee that human rights are not violated. Governments have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the human rights of their citizens are respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled.

That is why GNI is committed to collective action to promote the adoption of laws, policies and practices that protect and respect freedom of expression and privacy. GNI begins from the premise that collaboration among the ICT industry, civil society organizations, investors and academics can strengthen efforts to advance freedom of expression and privacy globally.

How will the companies implement the Principles within their operations?

Participating companies make a number of specific operational commitments that they will establish during the first two years after joining GNI:
• Employing Human Rights Impact Assessments to identify circumstances when freedom of expression and privacy may be jeopardized or advanced.
• Forming cross-functional, internal teams to lead the implementation of the Principles.
• Training employees on procedures to protect freedom of expression and privacy when faced with government demands and restrictions.
• Providing whistle-blowing mechanisms through which employees and other stakeholders can confidentially or anonymously report violations of the Principles and Implementation Guidelines.
• Encouraging relevant business partners, industry colleagues, suppliers and distributors to follow the Principles and Implementation Guidelines.
• Requesting that government demands to limit freedom of expression or privacy and the legal basis for such demands are made in writing.
• Establishing high-level of transparency with users when required by governments to remove content or limit access to information and ideas and the circumstances where they may be required to disclose personal information.
• Considering challenging governments in courts or other formal forums when faced with restrictions that appear inconsistent with domestic law or international human rights laws and standards on freedom of expression and privacy.

What is the role of civil society organizations, investors and academics in the Global Network Initiative?

GNI is a collaboration in which non-company participants are equal partners. Their role includes:
• Participation in the governance of the Initiative.
• Provision of expert advice and collaborative problem solving.
• Development of evaluation and benchmarking mechanisms to ensure transparency with the public and participation in the accountability process.
• Assisting with the recruitment of ICT companies and other stakeholders to the Initiative.
• Engagement with governments and international institutions to promote the rule of law and the adoption of laws, policies and practices that promote protection and respect of freedom of expression and privacy.
• With the participating companies, review and revise the three foundational documents based on lessons learned from their implementation.

Are governments participating in the Global Network Initiative?

Although governments will not be members of the Initiative, GNI will engage in outreach to governments, inter-governmental organizations and global policy bodies to encourage them to support the Principles and their adoption by local companies.

How does GNI define “global human rights standards?”

The Principles are grounded in international human rights laws and standards including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”). The Principles were developed with significant input from academics and lawyers specializing in international human rights law.

How is the Global Network Initiative governed?

GNI’s Governance Charter defines the roles and responsibilities of the participants. GNI is a registered 501c3 organization governed by a Board of Directors with equal representation from company and non-company participants. The Board has hired an Executive Director to manage the daily activities of GNI and an independent chair to lead the Board of Directors.

How will companies be held accountable for compliance with the Principles and Implementation Guidelines?

The companies will be held accountable through a system of independent third-party assessment of company compliance with the Principles and Implementation Guidelines. Full details of the accountability system are described in the “Governance, Accountability and Learning Framework.” The first assessments are taking place during 2011.

How is the Global Network Initiative funded?

Companies pay a membership fee based on a sliding scale according to revenue. Non-company participants give a nominal contribution of between $100 and $1,000. Foundations also provide funding for GNI.

What information about the Global Network Initiative will be reported publicly?

GNI publishes an annual report on its work and progress. The first report was released in December 2010 and can be accessed here.

Is the Global Network Initiative actively recruiting additional participants?

Yes. The success of GNI requires that membership be global, and broadly based. The Initiative welcomes ICT companies, civil society organizations, investors and academics worldwide with a clear interest in the advancement of the Principles and Implementation Guidelines. For more information contact GNI at info@globalnetworkinitative.org.

How can the public provide the Global Network Initiative or its members with feedback or ask additional questions?

GNI welcomes dialogue on its documents and processes. Please get in touch via info@globalnetworkinitiative.org.