New York, October 28, 2008–After two years of intense negotiations, a diverse coalition of Internet companies, academics, socially responsible investors, and human rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, is launching the Global Network Initiative, an important first step in establishing guidelines for the communications and information industries to protect freedom of expression and privacy.
The Global Network Initiative is founded on new Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, a set of guidelines that companies agree to follow when governments seek to enlist them in acts of censorship or surveillance that violate international standards of human rights. These Principles provide a clear road map where none existed before–and they are not simply aspirational, they are concrete.
Companies that sign up will be held to account and agree to hold themselves up to external evaluation. The Principles and accompanying Implementation Guidelines require significant new commitments from participating companies including: establishing greater transparency with users; assessing human rights risk; requesting the legal rationale for government actions and policies; training employees; challenging human rights violations; and providing whistle-blowing mechanisms through which violations of the Principles can be reported.
CPJ believes that the Global Network Initiative will help protect journalists using the Internet from exposing themselves to prosecution and censorship. We became concerned about the role communications and information companies were playing in journalism when Chinese journalist Shi Tao was arrested in 2004 for sending information via his personal Yahoo e-mail account. In Shi’s case, the Chinese government learned of his identity when it demanded personal information from Yahoo’s Hong Kong office. Yahoo turned over the information without knowing the reason. When Shi was sentenced to a 10-year imprisonment, his case became the catalyst for human rights groups to demand greater protections for human rights and privacy from companies doing business worldwide.
“The Internet and mobile communications have given journalists a powerful new voice,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “But Big-Brother governments are increasingly turning such liberating technologies into tools of control and repression. Censorship, Internet filtering and wire-tapping are rampant. If they fail to stifle independent voices, there’s always jail. One in three journalists imprisoned today worked online.”
While CPJ realizes that this is not a silver bullet that will guarantee there will be no more Shi Taos, we support and are a part of the Global Network Initiative because we believe we can achieve more working together than individually. That Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft have signed on shows they are committed to upholding the values of free expression and privacy and infusing human rights into their corporate culture. We hope other companies around the world in the information and communication technology industry will see that it is in their interest to work together with human rights organizations, so we can push back collectively against governments that contravene human rights and seek to censor and jail their journalists.
“CPJ is committed to supporting and strengthening the Global Network Initiative, which will give companies additional leverage in the endless tug of war between those who want to restrict information and ideas and those who want to see them circulate freely,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This agreement is an important first step but only one of the many efforts needed to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and privacy is protected for all Internet users, especially those in repressive countries.”
Read more on the Global Network Initiative.