GNI Policy Brief – Corporate Responsibility & Internet Governance

A Global Network Initiative Policy Brief1  

This December in Dubai, world governments will gather to renegotiate a key treaty under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency that specializes in global telecommunications. The meeting, known as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), has been billed as a mortal threat to Internet freedom, a rare opportunity to fix inequitable flaws in the existing global economic framework for communications infrastructure, and all or none of the above.

Although there is a real risk that authoritarian states will use this process to seek greater government control over the Internet, it would be a mistake to turn the WCIT into a referendum on UN involvement in Internet governance. The UN already plays a key role through the international human rights system, and by supporting discussion venues like the Internet Governance Forum. The problem is that the opaque ITU process, which is largely closed to civil society participation, presents opportunities for governments to pursue politically motivated policies at the expense of users and innovators alike.  Although companies and governments have legitimate reasons to cooperate on Internet policy, when this happens behind closed doors without adequate safeguards the human rights of users can be put at risk.

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.

  • 1.This document draws on discussion in a July 2012 GNI learning call on the ITU as well as feedback and suggestions from GNI’s Policy and Learning Committee. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of GNI’s participants.