The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is pleased to announce that BT plc has joined GNI as an observer.

Observer status will allow the United Kingdom-based global telecommunications company to engage directly on freedom of expression and privacy issues at part of GNI’s multi-stakeholder platform, which brings together internet, telecommunications and vendor companies, as well over 35 human rights and press freedom groups, investors and academic members.

“BT joins GNI as an observer at a time when governments are stepping up their engagement with companies and civil society actors on surveillance, online extremism, government-ordered network shutdowns, and encryption,” said international human rights lawyer and GNI Independent Board Chair Mark Stephens, CBE.

“Our international platform is designed to both build company standards and collectively advocate for the improvement of digital rights with governments around the world,” Mr. Stephens said.

Julian Ashworth, BT’s Group Policy Director, said: “Protecting privacy and free expression is important to BT, which is why we are delighted to join as an observer within the Global Network Initiative.”

“BT published its first Privacy and Free Expression Report in 2015, and after participating in GNI’s open learning forums, we look forward to working more closely with its diverse company, civil society, investor and academic participants to address these important issues,” Mr. Ashworth said.

Observer status—which lasts for one year—is an opportunity for companies who are actively considering joining GNI to examine the multi-stakeholder initiative’s policy advocacy, as well as the expectations and impact of the GNI Principles on free expression and privacy all GNI member companies must commit to.

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 company assessment process.

“We are encouraged that BT is joining as an observer of the Global Network Initiative,” said Jodie Ginsberg, Executive Director of Index on Censorship and member of the GNI Board.

“Threats to free expression and digital rights are mounting globally. Checking those threats, and maintaining the highest international standards to protect these rights, requires constant vigilance,” she said.

GNI has recently undergone a milestone membership expansion, adding seven telecommunications and vendor companies with global footprints, including UK-based Vodafone Group. BT’s observer status adds to this enhanced GNI global reach. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo are also members of GNI.