WASHINGTON, DC/AMSTERDAM/LONDON —The Global Network Initiative (GNI) completed its third cycle of independent company assessments and released the 2018/2019 public assessment report of 11 member companies: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Millicom, Nokia, Orange, Telefónica, Telenor Group, Telia Company, Verizon Media, and Vodafone Group. This was the first GNI assessment of the telecommunications operator and vendor companies.
“These assessments show how more companies from different parts of the ICT sector are integrating freedom of expression and privacy rights into their operations when confronted with government requests for censorship, surveillance, and network shutdowns,” said GNI Independent Board Chair Mark Stephens.
The assessment process relies on a methodology designed to allow GNI’s civil society, academic, and investor board members (“non-company board members”) insight into member company efforts to implement the GNI Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy (“GNI Principles”). Based on a detailed evaluation of confidential reports prepared by independent assessors, and the querying of the assessors and member companies, GNI’s multistakeholder Board of Directors reviewed the assessments and determined that each company is making good-faith efforts to implement the GNI Principles with improvement over time.
“GNI assessments provide a unique mechanism for human rights groups to examine the policies and procedures companies have to government censorship and surveillance demands to assess whether companies are putting GNI Principles into practice and improving their performance over time,” said Arvind Ganesan, Director of Business and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch.
The independent assessments were conducted according to the GNI Assessment Toolkit by assessors accredited by the GNI Board as meeting independence and competency criteria established by GNI, and who participated in mandatory assessor training. Assessors received access to information, including relevant documents in secure settings. They also had access to key company personnel, from frontline teams to senior management, conducting a total of 125 interviews. Assessments included an examination of 86 case studies, which looked at how the companies deal with government requests and demands in practice. The GNI Board met four times over the course of 2019 to review the 11 company assessment reports and engage in detailed discussion with each company and assessor before making their determinations.
“The assessment process strives to increase company transparency while protecting users’ rights through ample access to information,” said Gare Smith, Partner at Foley Hoag LLP, an accredited GNI assessor.
The public report shares the findings from the company assessments. Points of progress and areas for future shared learning identified in the report include further consideration of how companies integrate the GNI Principles into their business operations, ways to enhance and expand training efforts inside companies, and developing tools and guidance on topics such as human rights due diligence and impact assessment.
The GNI assessment process is confidential by design. It allows companies to share and discuss sensitive cases of government requests with GNI’s non-company board members. It also allows discussion of internal company systems and processes to implement the GNI Principles.
The GNI assessment process shows how companies from different segments of the ICT sector can commit to a common set of fundamental freedom of expression and privacy principles, grounded in international human rights law and commitments to accountability, collaboration, shared learning, and public policy.
The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was launched in 2008. Our mission is to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy rights in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector by setting a global standard for responsible decision making and serving as a multistakeholder voice in the face of government restrictions and demands. GNI members include ICT companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), academics, academic institutions, and investors from around the world. See the full list of GNI members and observers.
ABOUT THE GNI PRINCIPLES
When companies join the GNI they commit to the GNI Principles and Implementation Guidelines, which provide a framework to guide the ICT industry and its stakeholders on respecting the freedom of expression and privacy of users around the world. The GNI Principles are based on international human rights laws and standards, and are informed by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
ABOUT THE GNI INDEPENDENT COMPANY ASSESSMENTS
When companies join GNI, they agree to have their implementation of the GNI Principles assessed independently by participating in GNI’s assessment process. The assessment is made up of a review of relevant internal systems, policies and procedures for implementing the Principles (the “process review”), and an examination of specific cases or examples that show how the company is implementing them in practice (the “case review”). Learn more about the 2018/2019 company assessments and see the executive summary of the 201/2019 public assessment report, also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.