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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. 

Digital Freedoms in International Law

Date: 
Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 12:30


On June 14th, 2012, GNI released the report “Digital Freedoms in International Law: Practical Steps to Protect Human Rights Online” by Dr. Ian Brown and Professor Douwe Korff. The report examines the challenges facing governments and technology companies as they balance rights to expression and privacy with law enforcement and national security responsibilities. The report draws from extensive research conducted by co-authors Dr. Brown and Professor Korff, including multi-stakeholder consultations held in London, Washington, and New Delhi.

To download the executive summary, click here

To download the full report, click here

 

Op-Ed: Responding to India’s Internet Clampdown

Date: 
Thursday, August 30, 2012 - 17:31

This op-ed was distributed by Global India Newswire and originally appeared on the International Business Times:

Responding to India’s Internet Clampdown

By Susan Morgan and David Sullivan

WASHINGTON: Last week, the Indian government missed an opportunity to show the world the right way to handle social media in a time of crisis. With rumours about unrest sweeping the subcontinent via social media and SMS and prompting mass population movements, even stalwart free speech advocates saw justification for urgent measures. Unfortunately, instead of choosing a targeted, ethically and technically responsible way to intervene, the government went overboard, requesting the blocking of a wide array of content.

As companies find themselves caught between government demands and their responsibility to respect the rights of their users, the private sector has a chance to demonstrate a human rights-respecting way forward.

The Indian government faced genuinely difficult decisions during this crisis, as any restrictions on content would have collateral impact on legitimate speech. India is hardly the first country to deal with this issue. Although Internet censorship is often associated with the Great Firewall of China, democracies are also grappling with how to balance security and civil liberties online. A year ago rioting in London prompted UK Prime Minister David Cameron to consider, but ultimately decide against, curtailing user access to social media and digital messaging.

Unfortunately, the track record of the Indian government on this topic is troubling. Last year the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology issued new rules for Internet intermediaries -- search engines, social media, etc. -- that require companies to respond to complaints about content submitted by anyone within 36 hours or face liability. Google and Facebook are currently in court facing charges on these rules, despite a campaign by Members of Parliament and civil liberties advocates to strike the rules down. Although Communications Minister Kapil Sibal promised a review of the rules, the government has yet to acknowledge key critiques and counterproposals.

Against this backdrop the government issued blocking directives for some 300 websites, blog posts, and social media accounts, including posts that were actually debunking rumours, as well as news media and reports by journalists.

Now, it is time for international and local companies to determine the right way to respond to the government's missteps. There are differences between companies in terms of their relationships with the Indian government. At one end of the spectrum are local Internet Service Providers, the companies who are doing most of the blocking so far. This category includes state-owned BSNL and MTNL, multinationals like Airtel, and smaller regional services, which all need a license from the Indian government to operate. Twitter falls on the other end of the spectrum. With no staff on the ground in India, the government has little leverage to compel them to remove content. Companies like Google and Facebook fall in the middle. They have staff on the ground and have been pushing back hard when the government pushes them to proactively monitor user-generated content.

Despite these differences in leverage, there are things both local and global companies can do to retain the trust of their user base and find an ethical way forward.

First, start with international human rights standards, such as the UN Human Rights Council resolution on the Internet that India voted for in July 2012. Companies that integrate human rights into their practices are going to be better prepared when the government comes calling. Human rights standards provide direction for companies in tough spots: they can make sure that at a minimum, demands from governments comply with local law, a threshold that the Indian government's blocks may not have met, as the directives do not actually specify the law under which they were made.

Second, work together and with allies. By collaborating with other local and global companies as well as civil society organizations, academics, and investors, companies can more accurately gauge risks, pool expertise, and raise their voices when they find governments infringing on free expression and privacy rights. International cooperation with foreign governments, learning from best practices in tackling similar national emergencies, is important to ensure that efforts to address national security concerns do not produce vague and overbroad restrictions on expression.

Third, embrace transparency. Google and Twitter both publish reports with details on government requests for content takedowns and user information. Facebook publishes its reporting and review of content procedures and law enforcement guidelines to set forth how it responds to user reports and government requests. This information can be used for advocacy with the government. Companies hesitant to publish this information may want to consider finding a way to aggregate reporting across the industry.

Governments, especially democracies, should also be transparent. The Government of India should disclose the takedown requests it has made and articulate the legal justification for them, so as to build trust and garner support for legitimate law enforcement efforts.

Instead of striking a balanced approach to security and free speech, the Indian government unnecessarily escalated a counterproductive feud. The right way forward is for both the government and industry to embrace human rights standards, collaboration, and transparency. (Global India Newswire)

(Susan Morgan is executive director and David Sullivan is policy and communications director at the Global Network Initiative)

Ensure the Free Flow of Information in Tajikistan

Date: 
Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 16:35
The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is concerned by the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression imposed by the Government of Tajikistan following violence in the region of Gorno-Badakhshan. Last week the government mandated the blocking of video-sharing website YouTube and reportedly shut down communications networks in Gorno-Badakhshan, severely restricting the free flow of information. A number of news sites, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), have also been reported blocked.
 
We urge the Tajik government to restore access to these websites and maintain phone, mobile, and Internet connections to the region. As the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović stated on July 27, “Blocking is a restriction on free media and, most importantly, deprives citizens of their right to know, to receive and impart information about the developments in their own country.”
 
Companies providing Internet and telecommunications services in Tajikistan at this time face a difficult situation, and may find themselves under duress from the government to operate in ways that go beyond legally accountable law enforcement activities. In these complex circumstances, a valuable first step for companies is to be transparent with their users to the maximum extent possible, and if human rights policies are not already in place, companies should issue guidance to in-country staff to ensure that their response is within the framework of international human rights principles.

Russian Internet Legislation Merits Greater Scrutiny Before Passage

Date: 
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 21:17

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is concerned that a legislative proposal under active consideration by the Russian Duma will curb freedom of expression online. The draft bill, Law 89417-6, which is due to have its second reading in the State Duma on July 11, would create a list of prohibited websites, sites containing content harmful to children or with extremist content, that would be enforced through measures including Domain Name System (DNS) and Internet Protocol (IP) address blocking.

Although GNI shares the goal of protecting children online, we are concerned that the proscribed measures could have serious ramifications on free expression and block access to information. Among the worrisome measures, website owners would be required to remove content within 24 hours or face IP blocking. Given the concerns regarding this legislation raised by the Presidential Council on Human Rights, GNI supports greater public review and consideration of this proposal before it is enacted.
 
The interconnected nature of the Internet means that a well-intended but narrow effort to address issues such as child protection and extremism prevention can have serious unintended consequences on the integrity of the Internet and the rights of its users. We urge a legislative process that includes diverse stakeholders with expertise on both technical and human rights considerations.

Global Network Initiative Welcomes UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Human Rights on the Internet

Date: 
Friday, July 6, 2012 - 10:39

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) welcomes the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet adopted on July 6, 2012. At a time of great debate regarding the role of governments, companies, and other stakeholders on Internet governance, it is important that a UN body has affirmed by consensus that the same rights that people have offline, particularly freedom of expression, also apply online.

We are encouraged by the commitment of more than 80 governments who co-sponsored the resolution. As a network of technology companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics, GNI provides a forum for participant organizations to engage with governments on free expression and privacy rights. We look forward to working with governments on the Human Rights Council and in other multilateral institutions as they consider how to protect free expression and privacy rights online.
 
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.

New Report Outlines Recommendations for Governments, Companies and Others on How to Protect Free Expression and Privacy Rights Online

Date: 
Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 07:03

Governments, companies, and other stakeholders can collaborate to protect rights to freedom of expression and privacy online, according to the authors of “Digital Freedoms in International Law: Practical Steps to Protect Human Rights Online” released today. The report, co-authored by Dr. Ian Brown and Professor Douwe Korff, examines the challenges facing governments and technology companies as they balance rights to expression and privacy with law enforcement and national security responsibilities. 

"We hope this report will help governments and companies protect human rights and public safety online, especially in countries where the Internet is playing a key role in political debate and activism," said Dr. Brown. 

The report draws from extensive research conducted by co-authors Dr. Brown and Professor Korff, including multi-stakeholder consultations held in London, Washington, and New Delhi. 

"The new global-digital environment poses challenges to the application of traditional human rights standards, for states, companies and NGOs,” said Professor Korff. “In our report, we have tried to identify those challenges and formulate tentative recommendations on how to meet them.  We hope this will lead to a wide debate, involving all stakeholders.'"

“GNI commissioned this report in order to engage on some of the most difficult and complicated questions about how to protect freedom of expression and privacy rights,” said GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan. “We hope it provokes a dialogue and debate that, over time, leads to practical steps that make a positive difference in how governments, companies, and other stakeholders address these issues.”

To download the executive summary, click here

To download the full report, click here

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.

 

Global Network Initiative 2012 Learning Forum

Date: 
Friday, June 15, 2012 - 11:35

GNI's inaugural Learning Forum brought to Washington, D.C. an exciting lineup of international speakers on cutting-edge issues relating to freedom of expression and privacy rights online:

Digital Freedoms in International Law: Practical Steps to Protect Human Rights Online

GNI presents a new report authored by Ian Brown of the Oxford Cyber Security Centre and Douwe Korff of London Metropolitan University. The report is based on extensive research, including consultations held in Washington, London, and New Delhi during the past year. Key issues and recommendations from the report will be presented with a focus on the practical steps that companies, governments and civil society organizations can take in response to challenges and dilemmas.
 
Policy Engagement on Business and Human Rights in the ICT Sector

With a focus on emerging challenges to an open Internet around the world, a diverse panel will reflect on the role of companies and other stakeholders on policy issues, including intermediary liability, censorship, and the relationships between governments and companies around the world.
 
Concluding Reflections

 
SPEAKERS
  • Sunil Abraham, Executive Director, Centre for Internet & Society (via videoconference)
  • Dan Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, US Department of State
  • Bob Boorstin, Director, Public Policy, Google 
  • Jermyn Brooks, Independent Chair, Global Network Initiative
  • Ian Brown, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute
  • Emily Butselaar, Online Editor, Index on Censorship (via videoconference)
  • Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President, Sustainability Research and Policy, Calvert Investments 
  • Leslie Harris, President & CEO, Center for Democracy & Technology
  • Rebecca MacKinnon, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, New America Foundation
  • Mike Newman, Chief Financial Officer, Websense
  • Sara Nordbrand, Sustainable Investment – Corporate Engagement, Church of Sweden
  • Ebele Okobi, Director, Business and Human Rights Program, Yahoo!
  • Meg Roggensack, Senior Advisor, Business & Human Rights, Human Rights First
  • Jillian York, Director for International Freedom of Expression, Electronic Frontier Foundation
 
Moderator
John Kampfner, GNI European Advisor and former Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
 
 
For more information, contact us at info@globalnetworkinitiative.org

GNI Statement on Thai Court Conviction

Date: 
Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 10:01

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is troubled by the conviction of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of the online forum Prachathai, under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act for not moving quickly enough to remove content posted by users. Her conviction illustrates the serious harm that occurs when companies are held liable for content uploaded or sent by users. It has significant implications for freedom of expression as well as economic innovation in Thailand and around the world.

Freedom of expression and access to information are fundamental human rights. Moreover, governments create incentives for investment and economic growth when they protect companies that act as platforms or conduits for content from liability.  GNI will continue to work collaboratively around the world to help advance policy solutions that better protect fundamental rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
 
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.

Global Network Initiative Concerned by Government of Vietnam’s Proposed Internet Decree

Date: 
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 14:26

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is deeply concerned by the free speech and privacy implications of the Government of Vietnam’s Draft Decree on Internet Services, draft legislation which, if made into law, would oblige Internet companies and other providers of information to Internet users in Vietnam to cooperate with the government in enforcing overbroad provisions that are inconsistent with international human rights standards.

The most recent draft of the Decree on Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Internet issued by the Government of Vietnam includes several worrisome provisions. Article 5 contains a long list of prohibited acts of expression, including such vague acts as “abusing the provision and use of the internet and information on the web” to “oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” “undermining the grand unity of all people” and “undermining the fine customs and traditions of the nation.” Article 25 requires the filtering of any information on the Internet based on interpretation that such information belongs to the category of “prohibited acts” stated in Article 5. Other provisions of the draft decree create liability or responsibilities for a wide range of intermediaries, including domain name registrars, ISPs, social networks, and even individual blogs that are simply open to comments. 
 
Also highly problematic is Article 24, which applies to foreign providers of information over the Internet. While the applicability of Article 24 is somewhat unclear, it appears to apply to all providers of information whose content is in Vietnamese and reaches Vietnamese territory. Article 24 would ostensibly require such providers to collaborate with the government to eliminate any prohibited information as defined in Article 5. GNI is also worried about provisions in this and other proposed legislation that would impose strict requirements on companies located in Vietnam, including that all servers provisioning IT services be located in Vietnam. For international companies without a presence in Vietnam, Article 24 would encourage them to establish offices or name representatives in the country, making them accountable for implementation of the decree. 
 
The Decree on Internet Services is due to go before the National Assembly in June.  Not only does the decree in its current form contain overly broad provisions that do not accord with international human rights standards, the decree would also have significant economic consequences for Vietnam given that the requirements it would impose would complicate the free flow of information across borders. GNI urges the Government of Vietnam to address both these issues as it finalizes the decree over the next few weeks.
 
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.
 

Facebook Gains Observer Status with the Global Network Initiative

Date: 
Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 09:00

WASHINGTON, DC — The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is pleased to announce that Facebook is the first company to gain observer status with GNI. Observer status is an opportunity for companies who are actively considering joining GNI to examine the initiative's programs as well as its principles on free expression and privacy.

“We created observer status after listening to companies who wanted to learn more about how GNI’s participants work together in support of free expression and privacy rights before committing to membership, and we welcome Facebook’s involvement,” said GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan. “Given Facebook’s influence in the industry and its importance to a growing global user base, we look forward to collaborating with them on the issues they are facing around the world.”

"We're delighted to serve as an observer with the Global Network Initiative and work with GNI and its members to promote a free and open Internet,” said Facebook VP for Global Public Policy Marne Levine. “Building a better understanding of the value of the open Internet, and its direct impact on job creation, education, and good governance, is critical, and precisely where the work of GNI can be useful."

As an observer, Facebook will participate in dedicated policy and learning sessions organized by GNI, and engage with current GNI participants and staff. Unlike GNI’s member companies, observers have not formally committed to the GNI Principles and Implementation Guidelines, and do not participate in GNI’s independent assessment process.  

“This is an important step for Facebook, and we welcome the opportunity to work with them towards the goal of becoming full GNI members,” said Arvind Ganesan, Director of Business and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch and GNI Board member. “Observer status is an opportunity for GNI to learn and listen to the ICT industry and is a pathway for companies to full membership in GNI and the accountable human rights mechanisms that are part of it.”

The observer status lasts for one non-renewable twelve-month term. Learn more about membership and observer status with the GNI here.

Visit the GNI on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GlobalNetworkInitiative.

Contacts:
David Sullivan, GNI, dsullivan@globalnetworkinitiative.org, +1-202-407-8831
Andrew Noyes, Facebook, noyes@fb.com, +1-202-370-5118

###

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.
 

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GNI Submits Comments to UN on Privacy in the Digital Age

Date: 
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 08:09

The Global Network Initiative welcomes the opportunity to provide input for the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights being prepared as requested in General Assembly Resolution 68/167 entitled “The right to privacy in the digital age.” This submission expands on GNI’s February 24 letter to the High Commissioner on this topic.

GNI brings together ICT companies with civil society organizations, investors, and academics to forge a common approach to protecting and advancing free expression and privacy online. GNI has developed a set of principles and implementation guidelines to guide responsible company, government and civil society action when facing requests from governments around the world that could impact the freedom of expression and privacy rights of users. 

This submission offers specific recommendations to inform the High Commissioner’s report based on the experience and perspectives of GNI’s multi-stakeholder membership. We recommend the report include the following specific points:

  • Bulk collection of communications data—both content and metadata—threatens privacy and freedom of expression rights.
  • Rather than bulk collection, government surveillance should be particularized, with independent judicial oversight. 
  • Governments that exercise “virtual control” over the digital communications of foreigners have an obligation to respect their privacy rights under the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR). 
  • The GNI principles and guidelines provide specific measures that can be taken by companies to respect privacy and free expression rights when facing requests by governments for access to data.
  • Increased transparency by governments and companies is a key building block to ensure that communications surveillance regimes are consistent with human rights standards.
  • Governments and companies should be as specific as possible with their users and the general public about the legal limitations on disclosing surveillance practices.
  • Governments should commit to more specific areas of increased transparency based on consultation with other stakeholders.

Read the full submission.

Bulk Webcam Collection Neither Necessary Nor Proportionate

Date: 
Friday, February 28, 2014 - 10:42

The Global Network Initiative is deeply alarmed by reports that the UK intelligence agency, GCHQ, has intercepted millions of Yahoo! webcam images.

In response, GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan said: “This is a truly shocking example of the urgent need to reform global government surveillance practices. It is hard to imagine how the mass collection of millions of images of webcam users could be considered necessary or proportionate. GNI supports reforms that would protect the privacy rights of people from all countries and end the bulk collection of communications data in the UK, the US, and around the world.”

GNI Writes to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Privacy in the Digital Age

Date: 
Monday, February 24, 2014 - 12:12

The Global Network Initiative has written to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of an expert seminar on the right to privacy in the digital age organized by the Permanent Missions of Austria, Brasil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland to the UN in Geneva:

February 24, 2014

Ms. Navanethem Pillay
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson, 52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland
Fax: +41 (0)22 917 9008

CC: Permanent Missions of Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland to the United Nations in Geneva 

Re: National security surveillance and protecting privacy in the digital age 

Dear High Commissioner:  

The report requested by the UN General Assembly on the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance, interception of digital communications, and the mass collection of personal data offers a unique opportunity to ground the emerging global debate on these issues in a framework of international human rights law. 

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) brings together ICT companies with civil society organizations, investors, and academics to forge a common approach to protecting and advancing free expression and privacy online. On the occasion of the expert seminar organized with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, we write to share initial views and recommendations regarding the substance and process of this report. 

Substantive Recommendations

GNI recommends that the High Commissioner include the following issues in her report:

Extraterritorial privacy rights

International human rights law sets standards that protect the freedom of expression and privacy rights of users from all countries. GNI has urged the United States to recognize the right to privacy of non-U.S. persons and to strengthen reforms to effectively protect this right. We urge other governments to do the same, and the High Commissioner’s report provides an opportunity to set forth best practices from legal frameworks around the world that should be adopted by all governments. 

Bulk collection of communications content and metadata

Bulk collection of communications data —both content and metadata—threatens privacy and freedom of expression rights and undermines trust in the security of electronic communications services provided by companies. This includes bulk collection by governments, and mandates to companies or other third parties to store data that they would otherwise not retain.

Responsibilities of governments and businesses to protect and respect privacy

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights define the respective roles of the public and private sector as the state duty to protect and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Companies should engage in human rights due diligence to “know and show” that they are addressing potential human rights impacts. The GNI Principles provide focused guidance on how ICT companies can respond to government requests implicating privacy in ways that respect the rights of users, backed by the independent assessment of company implementation. However, the first assessments of our founding companies Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have pointed to the difficulties that can arise when governments impose secrecy requirements on companies who receive national security surveillance requests, limiting their ability to be transparent about the steps they take to minimize risks to the privacy of their users. 

Transparency

Transparency reforms are a necessary first steps in examining whether domestic laws adequately protect rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The report should identify increased transparency by governments and companies as a key building block to ensure that communications surveillance regimes are consistent with human rights standards. 

Procedural Recommendations

Broad-based consultation

We recommend that the High Commissioner first develop a broadly inclusive process of consultation and engagement to inform the development of the report. There have been a plethora of high-level commissions, panels, and gatherings seeking to address Internet governance following the national security surveillance revelations of 2013, but none possess the global legitimacy of the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council. We therefore urge the High Commissioner to consult both with governments — particularly the intelligence and security agencies that conduct surveillance, as well as a wide array of non-governmental voices, including civil society and the private sector.  

Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy in the digital age

Given the urgency and complexity of this topic, we recommend that a Special Rapporteur on  the right to privacy in the digital age be established with a mandate to address this issue holistically. Although Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, and on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, have addressed these issues in reports and briefings, the gravity and pervasiveness of concerns regarding this issue demand sustained attention at the global level. Reporting by a special rapporteur on privacy could highlight specific areas of concern and best practices at the national level and help lay the groundwork for future international action on this topic. 

Sincerely yours, 

Jermyn Brooks 
Independent Chair 
Global Network Initiative 

Susan Morgan 
Executive Director 
Global Network Initiative

Turkish Internet Legislation Threatens Free Expression and Privacy Rights

Date: 
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 11:45

Update: Turkey’s parliament passed the legislation on Wednesday February 5, 2014. GNI urges Turkish President Abdullah Gül to veto the bill.

The Global Network Initiative is greatly concerned by legislation under consideration in Turkey that if passed, would loosen already troubling standards for blocking of online content and require Internet service providers (ISPs) to retain information about users' online activity

The legislation would amend Turkey’s Law 5651 on the Regulation of Broadcasts via Internet and Prevention of Crimes Committed through Such Broadcasts. In December 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the existing law violates the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The amendments, however, would worsen the law’s impact on rights to free expression and privacy by weakening judicial oversight and due process for decisions on content removal and opening the door to even greater censorship online. The amendments also dramatically increase the obligations on ISPs to retain information about their customers’ online activities, and force ISPs to join a state controlled association.

On January 14 the Turkish Parliament’s planning and budget committee approved the proposed amendments, which are due to be considered by the full Parliament before the end of the month. Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons against protests over the law held in Istanbul and Ankara last week.

GNI urges the Turkish parliament to review the proposed amendments and remove those that are inconsistent with international legal standards regarding free expression and privacy rights.

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.

Surveillance Reforms to Protect Rights and Restore Trust

Date: 
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 11:01

The Global Network Initiative urges President Obama and the U.S. Congress to enact reforms to U.S. national security surveillance laws, policies and practices that would ensure a rights-based approach to national security and help to restore trust in the Internet for users around the world. 

Public debate and prospects for reform 

GNI welcomes the public debate in the United States, with all three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial— considering reforms to current surveillance practices. Some proposals would begin to limit the scope of surveillance and increase transparency, oversight, and accountability. Others would be harmful, codifying practices around bulk collection of data and allowing surveillance practices to continue to occur that conflict with universal rights to privacy and freedom of expression. 

We urge the government to embrace significant reforms that would effectively protect free expression and privacy rights worldwide, consistent with the views of diverse stakeholders who are calling for change, including civil society organizations, ICT companies, academics, writers, and investors, as well as the U.N. General Assembly resolution, “The right to privacy in the digital age,” approved in December 2013.

Recommendations

Building on the recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies, and reflecting the views of ICT companies, civil society organizations, investors, and academics, GNI recommends: 

  1. End the bulk collection of communications metadata. Bulk collection of communications metadata threatens the privacy and freedom of expression rights of people in the United States and abroad, and undermines trust in the security of electronic communications services provided by U.S. companies. This includes bulk collection by governments, and mandates to companies or other third parties to store data that they would otherwise not retain.
  2. Protect the rights of non-Americans. The Review Group recognized the right to privacy of non-U.S. persons under international human rights law, but their recommendations to limit the scope of surveillance against foreigners should be substantially strengthened.
  3. Continue to increase transparency of surveillance practices. Specifically, continue to declassify key legal opinions and documents, place limits on the gag orders imposed on companies who receive FISA orders and national security letters, and allow companies to regularly report statistics reflecting the national security surveillance orders they receive and the number of users specified in those orders. 
  4. Support strong encryption and do not subvert security standards. Strong encryption is essential to maintaining the security and privacy of Internet communications and commerce. The U.S. government should support its use and immediately cease sabotaging security standards. 

 

 

GNI Statement on Report of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies

Date: 
Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 10:54

GNI welcomes the public release of the report by the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, an important first step from the Obama administration toward communications surveillance reform. The report makes 46 recommendations that add momentum to the push for reform, including significant changes to the surveillance programs operated pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, as well as to the use of National Security Letters.

Importantly, a number of recommendations address the concerns that GNI has raised regarding the lack of transparency on U.S. surveillance practices that make it difficult for companies operating in the U.S. to be transparent regarding their own efforts to protect free expression and privacy. These include changes that would place important limits on the gag orders that restrict discussion of national security demands, and permit companies to report on the requests they receive from the U.S. government under national security directives.

GNI welcomes the attention that the report gives to the privacy rights of non-US persons, a first step toward bringing this critical issue into the debate in the United States. More specific recommendations and commitments, however, are required to ensure that policy reforms address privacy rights for all people, wherever they reside.

The report also makes recommendations regarding a number of other issues, including cybersecurity, encryption standards, and the governance of global communications technology.

Although this report is an important contribution to the surveillance reform debate, what matters in the end is what recommendations the administration implements. GNI looks forward to President Obama's response to the report in January 2014, and we will engage the administration to urge a response that effectively protects and advances free expression and privacy rights worldwide.

Video: New Frontiers of Open Government

Date: 
Friday, November 1, 2013 - 11:00

At the Open Government Summit in London, GNI Board Chair Jermyn Brooks joined a panel on the next-generation challenges governments and civil society must face in advancing the open government agenda globally.

GNI Welcomes Internet Company Principles on Global Government Surveillance Reform

Date: 
Monday, December 9, 2013 - 11:57

The Global Network Initiative welcomes the principles on Global Government Surveillance Reform launched today by a group of technology companies including GNI member companies Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and observer company LinkedIn.

The companies call for an end to bulk data collection of Internet communications, demand independent judicial review of surveillance requests, and present an approach that would protect privacy for Internet users worldwide. GNI’s participants commit to engage governments in support of rights to freedom of expression and privacy. We applaud this effort, which shows that even when they are legally barred from disclosing government demands, companies can take action to press for reform.

GNI has urged those governments who have formally committed to protecting rights online to lead by example, beginning with greater transparency on government requests. As an initiative that brings together technology companies with civil society, investors, and academics, we look forward to working with governments around the world to address legitimate security concerns while protecting universal rights to privacy and freedom of expression. 

Although all governments have a responsibility to ensure that their surveillance practices are consistent with international human rights standards, the United States is in the global spotlight on this issue. As the U.S. considers reforms to its surveillance regime in advance of the report of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, it has an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership by enacting reforms that would bring oversight and control over surveillance regimes commensurate with their capacity. The reforms proposed today would help to ensure a rights-based approach to national security surveillance worthy of adoption globally.

Event Recap: 2013 Learning Forum in Brussels

Date: 
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 09:49

The Global Network Initiative and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy

2013 Learning Forum

Brussels, Belgium

Event Summary

On 13 November 2013, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (ID) held their first joint Learning Forum, presenting an opportunity for information and communications technology (ICT) companies, civil society organizations, academics, investors, government officials, and international organizations to share their perspectives on current challenges facing freedom of expression and privacy.  The forum was moderated by John Kampfner.

The event commenced with remarks by GNI Board Chair Jermyn Brooks and ID Chair Yves Nissim, who spoke about some of the actions that ICT companies are presently taking in order to protect their users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy. They described how the GNI and the ID are sharing best practices as part of their two-year collaboration.

The evolving free expression and privacy challenges in the ICT sector 

Featuring: 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; and Dewi van de Weerd, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

Panelists addressed the issues that have emerged due to revelations about massive communications surveillance by governments. Participants expressed that in many countries, legal frameworks on privacy and data protection are weak and provide for broad exceptions where national security is concerned. The laws generally deal with targeted rather than systematic surveillance, and they generally do not regulate the use of metadata. As a result, government powers to conduct surveillance have not been subject to robust democratic debate. Participants expressed that the rule of law must apply online as it does offline, and they cited the constant struggle for governments to align their principles on surveillance across all departments and functions. The degree to which international human rights law protects the rights of persons beyond the borders of a country that is conducting surveillance was identified as a topic that requires further examination. The concern was also expressed that recent proposals to nationalize the routing and storage of data could disrupt the free flow of information via the Internet.   

Participants also identified positive responses to these problems at both the national and international level. Efforts to address the issues raised by communications surveillance at the United Nations, through international dialogues, and through collaborations such as the Freedom Online Coalition were identified, although it was emphasized that all regions must be present in these debates. Participants also cited the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, developed by civil society organizations, as a positive contribution to the debate. Companies have contributed by developing new tools to protect privacy and by joining together to share best practices and discuss ways to make their operations more transparent. Participants emphasized the importance of collaboration and dialogue among all sectors in responding to these challenges. 

Free expression and privacy issues across the Atlantic and around the globe

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

Panelists from ICT companies, academia, the investor community, and civil society generally agreed that companies are increasingly required to play a prominent role in protecting customers’ rights. Panelists cited growing pressure from national governments on telecommunications companies to re-draw the borders of the Internet by requiring the localization of data. In some countries, law enforcement has sought to reduce the cost of obtaining user data by pushing companies to provide direct access. In one developing market, prison terms may be imposed on Internet Service Providers that refuse to comply with government requests, greatly constraining the ability of companies to push back against illegitimate demands. Some countries offer no legal protections for privacy. 

Participants expressed that companies should remain in challenging markets, due to the positive impact that they can have on public policy and the fact that they are ultimately accountable to the media, shareholders, and civil society in their home countries. In countries where laws are ambiguous and oversight mechanisms are weak, companies should adopt and follow clear processes for responding to requests from governments. At the same time, locally developed policies and legislation were thought to represent better solutions in these countries than the transposition of European policies. Panelists expressed that, where possible, it is preferable for telecommunications operators to maintain operational and technical control over their networks rather than to provide direct access to governments. It was also emphasized that dialogue between investors and companies can be constructive when the legal course of action and the right course of action appear to be different standards. 

Participants expressed that companies must foster trust among their users through greater transparency. This is a challenge in many countries, which do not allow reporting on government requests that impact freedom of expression and privacy, but policies in Sweden and Finland on transparency were identified as good examples. In terms of practical steps that companies might take, some companies found that by publishing the number of government requests received, they have contributed to a public debate that has led to greater transparency. Some participants expressed that numbers provide an incomplete picture and indicated that the publication of company policies and procedures, as well as more information on what government requests achieve, are helpful measures. When a precise event occurs, such as the blocking of a Web site, an indication that it has been blocked fosters public debate.  Companies can also work with civil society organizations to push for policy reform in countries with problematic laws. 

 

Civil Society Groups and Tech Companies Call for Surveillance Reform

Date: 
Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 09:09

The Global Network Initiative joined a broad coalition of civil society groups, trade associations, companies and investors, signing an open letter to Congressional leadership calling on Congress to reform U.S. intelligence surveillance practices. 

“Recent disclosures regarding intelligence surveillance activity raise important concerns about the privacy and security of communications. This surveillance has already eroded trust that is essential to the free flow of information and to the exercise of human rights and civil liberties both in the United States and around the world,” the letter stated.

The signatories welcomed the USA FREEDOM Act, while stressing the importance of working on this and other legislation to protect the privacy of Internet users, while permitting appropriately targeted intelligence surveillance necessary to protect against terrorism.

The coalition letter, which includes a list of all signatories, is available here.

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All articles assessing the human rights impacts of issues addressed by GNI.

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

The GNI 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 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.

Date: 
Fri, 06/12/2009 - 16:00

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

The GNI 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 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.

Date: 
Fri, 06/12/2009 - 16:00

GNI Presents Multi-Stakeholder Approach at Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Summit

The GNI participated in a panel entitled, “The GNI’s Multi-Stakeholder Approach” at the first annual Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Summit on May 5, 2009.

Date: 
Thu, 06/04/2009 - 16:00

GNI Participants Discuss Human Rights Challenges at Soul of the New Machine Conference

On May 4, 2009, Global Network Initiative participants took part in a panel at the Soul of the New Machine Conference in Berkeley, California. Participants discussed recent challenges to freedom of expression and privacy in Korea, Moldova, and Australia, and the role of the GNI as a source of first principles, collaboration, and engagement.

Date: 
Tue, 06/02/2009 - 16:00

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

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.

Date: 
Wed, 05/20/2009 - 17:00

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

Ongoing and recurring incidents around the world have highlighted the need for the GNI's framework and approach. 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.

Date: 
Wed, 03/25/2009 - 17:00

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