The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is concerned with the Government of Pakistan’s request for proposals (RFP) to build and implement a new system for Internet filtering and blocking. The RFP specifies that the system be capable of blocking “undesirable” content on the scale of up to 50 million URLs. Given the Pakistani government’s previous use of Internet filtering, we do not believe companies could respond to this RFP in its current form while meeting their responsibilities to respect the freedom of expression and privacy rights of users.
All governments have a responsibility to protect the rights of their citizens, including for the legitimate aims of protecting national security and public morals. However, as most recently reaffirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, limitations on expression for such legitimate aims must be narrowly drawn, necessary and proportionate. Given the broad blocking of websites by Pakistan for allegedly blasphemous content and content regarding minorities and political rights, we are concerned that the potential breadth of content defined as “undesirable” could be expansive and disproportionate to any legitimate aim.
The concerns raised in this case underscore the importance of human rights impact assessments as part of company due diligence when considering new business opportunities, as advocated within GNI’s Principles as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Companies have a responsibility to assess whether their technologies and services may be used by governments in ways inconsistent with international human rights standards.
The GNI invites participation in its activities from companies around the world that are committed to supporting free expression and privacy.