March 28, 2017 –AMSTERDAM/BRUSSELS/LONDON/WASHINGTON DC – In an important step forward for the protection of global freedom of expression and privacy rights, the multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative(GNI) today announced that it has more than doubled its company participants, with the addition of seven leading international telecommunications operator and vendor companies.
This milestone expansion in membership means the combined customer base of the seven new GNI members – more than 1.5 billion people in over 120 countries in Africa, North, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific – will now be covered by the standards and user rights protections to which all GNI company members commit.
Millicom, Nokia, Orange, Telefónica, Telenor Group, Telia Company and Vodafone Group join with GNI’s five global internet company members – Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo – and with more than 35 human rights and press freedom groups, academics and investor members in this unique collaboration to strengthen protections for global digital rights. The seven companies were until now members of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (ID).
GNI’s enlarged membership comes at a critical time for GNI’s advocacy with national governments, who are grappling with their responsibilities to protect the public while ensuring that the privacy, security and expression rights of individuals are not put at risk.
“The challenges posed by online extremism, surveillance, cross-border data laws and government-ordered network shutdowns cannot be solved by governments alone,” said Mark Stephens CBE., international human rights lawyer and GNI Independent Board Chair.
“GNI continues to build an unrivaled multi-stakeholder platform of companies and civil society actors, all committed to working with governments on constructive solutions to uphold and respect the rights of free expression and privacy in the digital realm,” Mr. Stephens said.
“Today, as we embark on the next chapter in the evolution of GNI, we are excited to help realize the vision of internet, telecommunications and vendor companies working together in the same human rights initiative,” said Laura Okkonen, Head of Human Rights at Nokia Group and Chair of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue.
“We look forward to building on this work together with our GNI colleagues, as we continue an active and transparent dialogue with all our stakeholders,” Ms. Okkonen said.
“GNI’s expansion to include these seven global companies underlines that the protection of freedom of expression and privacy are critical for companies to retain user trust in the digital age,” said Arvind Ganesan, Global Director for Business and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch and GNI Board member.
“As more threats emerge around the world, more companies are agreeing to protect their users’ digital rights, and to be measured against GNI’s standards,” Mr. Ganesan said.
Like the existing company members, the new members commit to the GNI Principles and agree to have their commitment to these principles evaluated every two years through GNI’s independent company assessment process. Based on international human rights instruments, the Principles guide ICT companies on how to respect, protect and advance user rights when they respond to government demands for censorship, disclosure of user data and restrictions on access to communications services.
The new members will have representatives on the GNI multi-stakeholder governing Board, with the Board maintaining its equal representation of company and non-company members. The GNI Board is led by an Independent Chair, and consists of representatives from all four of GNI’s constituencies – companies, academics, human rights/press freedom groups, and investors.
“By committing to the GNI Principles, these companies set an example that others across the ICT sector should follow: demonstrating that companies who compete with each other commercially can collaborate successfully to improve protections for free expression and privacy for all users,” said Vivek Krishnamurthy, GNI Board member and Assistant Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.
“GNI is significantly expanding at a time when the space for civil society is shrinking in many countries,” said Sara Nordbrand, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Engagement at the Church of Sweden and GNI Board Member. “GNI membership allows companies to work with both corporate peers and diverse global stakeholders to build leverage and refine their practice of human rights due diligence across the ICT value chain. From an investor perspective, that’s a sign of quality,” Ms. Nordbrand said.
Companies participating in the GNI and ID are leaders in their respective sectors in responding to government threats to user rights. This has included developing human rights impact risk assessments, urging governments to be transparent about their requests to companies to censor, access and restrict access to user data, and evolving company policies to empower users with information and tools to protect their rights.
The seven telecommunications companies recently completed a year of observer status within the GNI, which included shared learning on human rights impact assessments, transparency about government requests to take down content, and other industry best practices. In July, the GNI and ID released a joint policy statement on government-ordered network shutdowns and disruptions.
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