The Global Network Initiative (GNI) welcomes the high-level international attention to Internet freedom at the Freedom Online ministerial conference in the Netherlands, and stands ready to engage with companies across the information and communications technology (ICT) sector at a time of increased scrutiny regarding how their practices affect internet freedom.

We share the concerns expressed by government representatives, companies, and activists regarding the importance of keeping the Internet open and free, and the critical role of responsible corporate action to protect and advance universal human rights to privacy and freedom of expression. GNI supports U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s call “for the private sector to embrace its role in protecting Internet freedom.” As Secretary Clinton said, GNI “is a growing forum where companies can work through challenges with other industry partners, as well as academics, investors, and activists.”

In her remarks, Secretary Clinton identified some of the difficult questions facing companies:

So what kind of business should you do in a country where it has a history of violating Internet freedom? Is there something you can do to prevent governments from using your products to spy on their own citizens? Should you include warnings to consumers? How will you handle requests for information from security authorities when those requests come without a warrant? Are you working to prevent post-purchase modifications of your products or resale through middlemen to authoritarian regimes?

These are precisely the substantive issues that that GNI can help companies to work through, using the expertise of our stakeholders and raising our collective voice to press for policy change.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda reinforced the urgency for responsible corporate self-regulation as one component of a broader Internet freedom agenda:

Self regulation could help here. The industry should come up with concrete solutions. The Global Network Initiative is one possible model, but I don’t want to be prescriptive at this stage. But I do want to see some kind of action. For our part, we are ready to support that process with expertise and operational support.

GNI can help companies across the ICT sector and around the world embrace a transparent and accountable approach to doing business and supporting free expression and privacy rights. This week Websense became the fifth company to join GNI, joining Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, and Evoca. A global provider of web, data, and email security, Websense shows that GNI’s principles are relevant to companies operating across the ICT sector.

The GNI invites participation from companies around the world that are committed to supporting free expression and privacy. In addition to the option of participating as members, a limited number of companies who are actively considering joining GNI and interested in learning more about its approach may apply for observer status.

GNI provides a framework for company decision-making through a set of Principles and Implementation Guidelines based on internationally recognized human rights standards. Participating companies benefit from working directly with human rights and press freedom groups, investors, and academics, who can provide real time problem-solving support, often with experts or networks on the ground in locations around the world. GNI helps ICT companies operate responsibly in diverse and challenging global markets, while respecting the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users.