As entrepreneurs, engineers, and activists gathered in San Francisco, California for the inaugural Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference on October 25-26, 2011, the work of the Global Network Initiative was “at the center of debate” according to Politico, and repeatedly highlighted as a crucial component of wider efforts to manage the human rights implications of new technologies.

The conference, organized by Access, brought together speakers from corporations, governments, and civil society, but most notably featured activists on the frontlines of the global human rights struggle. Egyptian blogger Alaa abd el Fattah, targeted for his activism by the Egyptian military, challenged companies to think about practical things they can do in the face of government requests such as the internet shutdown in Egypt. “If you hear of plans or orders you don’t like, go to court, ask for due process,” he said. Journalist Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, currently facing a possible penalty of 20 years in prison for not moving fast enough to remove user comments from her website that allegedly defamed the Thai monarchy, called for collective action to amend the harsh intermediary liability laws in Thailand.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner specifically highlighted GNI, noting “this group has wrestled collectively with the thorniest issues of the day.” GNI Board Secretary Bennett Freeman explicitly challenged companies to join GNI, saying “This is the moment we must grasp. This is the time when companies have to step up and be responsive.”

GNI board members Rebecca MacKinnon and Bob Boorstin also gave keynote presentations, and GNI staff, board members, and participants led workshops on a wide range of topics, from incorporating human rights “by design” to social networks. GNI Executive Director Susan Morgan presented on the GNI and the implementation of UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights. Cynthia Wong from the Center for Democracy and Technology moderated the panel on intermediary liability.