Working with phone companies on free expression

For more than six years the Committee to Protect Journalists has been working with freedom of expression advocates, investors, and giant Internet companies to promote online freedoms. Absent from the discussions under the umbrella of the Global Network Initiative have been the telecommunications companies–vital gateways to the Internet for journalists and bloggers, particularly in much of the global South. Today things have changed.

Some telecom companies took part in the early GNI negotiations, but when it came time to commit in 2008, they said they were not ready to join. But telecom companies are under increasing public scrutiny around the world as governments make more and more demands for access to the treasure troves of information they hold on all of us who go online, send a text message, or make a phone call.

A group of companies known as the Industry Dialogue, which have been meeting since 2011 to address these concerns, today committed to work with GNI over the next two years. The companies are: Alcatel-Lucent, France Telecom-Orange, Millicom, Nokia Siemens Networks, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, and Vodafone. These firms, though based in Europe, have global reach.

Although the telecom companies are not joining GNI, their willingness to engage is a positive first step. And the Dialogue remains open for more telecom companies to join.