The Global Network Initiative (GNI) commends recent action by the U.S. government and Europe to press for accountability from Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies in relation to human rights abuses in Iran and Syria. This is particularly important as at the same time some Internet technologies empower citizens to communicate in new ways, related technologies expose them to new risks, including surveillance that can facilitate serious human right violations.

GNI welcomes the announcement by the Obama administration of new sanctions targeting enablers of human rights abuses in Iran and Syria facilitated by computer and network disruption, monitoring, and tracking by those governments. Although the Executive Order targets only Iran and Syria, we believe that government and company action to curtail the use of ICTs to enable human rights abuses should not be limited to these two countries, indeed, it is a global challenge.

GNI is rooted in Principles on Free Expression and Privacy that commit our member companies to conduct due diligence and consider the human rights impact of their business decisions, and we encourage companies across the ICT sector to do the same. We support the approach adopted by the White House, which narrowly targets specific entities and seeks to avoid unintended chilling effects on free expression that broad sanctions can create by denying citizen’s access to ICT products and services.
GNI also welcomes recent European efforts around human rights and information and communications technology, including the European Parliament resolution calling for regulations on the export of ICTs to autocratic states, as well as the earlier inclusion of ICTs in EU sanctions on the government in Syria.
Later this year, GNI will release a report addressing how governments, companies, and civil society can find the balance points between free expression, privacy, law enforcement, and national security, including through export controls.