Recent decisions by some technology companies to restrict access to or sever ties with WikiLeaks highlight the difficulties companies face when governments attempt to restrict controversial information.
The Global Network Initiative does not take a position on WikiLeaks decision to publish these materials or on their content, but is concerned about the implications for freedom of expression and privacy online. As citizens increasingly depend on digital communications in their daily lives, including for political discourse, GNI believes that freedom of expression and human rights must be protected in the following ways:
- Governments have an obligation to safeguard freedom of expression and must carefully weigh the implications of restricting controversial information—including in cases in which there are concerns of threats to national security or the safety of individuals. In all cases, such decisions should respect the rule of law and due process. We urge the US government and other governments affected by the WikiLeaks disclosures to adhere to this standard.
- Governments have internationally recognized obligations regarding the rights of privacy and freedom of expression of their citizens. ICT companies have the responsibility to protect their customers and ensure that governments respect those rights when they try to restrict expression or provide information on users. When faced with a government request, an ICT company should: (i) determine whether a government action is consistent with the government’s legal and other obligations to their citizens, and, (ii) based on that analysis, implement a decision-making process that protects the freedom of expression and privacy rights of the company’s customers.
- Companies need to be transparent with their customers and other users about how they respond to government pressure or demands. Where possible, companies should notify customers about government requests with sufficient opportunity for them to take steps to protect themselves from or respond to governmental action.
GNI believes that the WikiLeaks document release and the complex issues it has raised about freedom of expression for a wide variety of companies underscores the need for companies to adopt effective policies and procedures to safeguard freedom of expression and privacy.
GNI is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. GNI provides resources for ICT companies to help them address difficult issues related to freedom of expression and privacy that they may face anywhere in the world. GNI has created a framework of principles and a confidential, collaborative approach to working through challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector.