Posted: Dec 15, 2010
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.
NGO Members: Arvind Ganesan Human Rights Watch, Leslie Harris Center for Democracy & Technology, Robert Mahoney Committee to Protect Journalists, Meg Roggensack Human Rights First
Company Members: Chuck Cosson Microsoft, Ebele Okobi-Harris Yahoo!, Lewis Segall Google
Note: Five company seats remain open for companies that join the GNI in the future.
Academic Members Rebecca MacKinnon Personal capacity, Colin Maclay Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Investor Members: Bennett Freeman Calvert Group, Adam Kanzer Domini Social Investments LLC
The following members serve as Alternate Board Members:
NGO Alternates: Mark Bench World Press Freedom Committee, Sharon Hom Human Rights In China, Kathleen Reen Internews, Eddan Katz Electronic Frontier Foundation
Company Alternates: Bob Boorstin Google, Dorothy Dwoskin Microsoft, David Hantman Yahoo!
Academic Alternates: Deirdre Mulligan Personal capacity, Ernest Wilson Personal capacity
Investor Alternates: Alexis Krajeski F&C Asset Management, Dawn Wolfe Boston Common Asset Management
Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Boston Common Asset Management, Calvert Group, Center for Democracy & Technology, Committee to Protect Journalists, Domini Social Investments LLC, Electronic Frontier Foundation, F&C Asset Management, Google Inc., Human Rights First, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch, International Business Leaders Forum, Internews, KLD Research & Analytics, Inc., Microsoft Corp., Rebecca MacKinnon, New America Foundation, Research Center for Information Law, University of St. Gallen, Trillium Asset Management, United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Business & Human Rights (observer status), University of California, Berkeley School of Information, World Press Freedom Committee, Yahoo! Inc.