Privacy guidelines set for use in wider spheresNovember 2009
Guidelines on freedom of expression and privacy issues for internet companies could be modified to a wider selection of technology businesses.
The guidance, from the Global Network Initiative, a coalition of businesses, NGOs and academic institutions that includes Google and Yahoo, mainly focuses at present on internet-related privacy and censorship issues.
However, the GNI says a recent ‘open house’ meeting for non-participants drew ‘significant interest’ in the guidelines from companies across the technology sector in areas such as telecommunications and software manufacturing.
As a result, GNI administrators will convene a working group ‘to explore how the guidelines can be further developed to assist other companies in their efforts to protect freedom of expression and privacy’.
Confidential discussions on this will involve various stakeholders, ‘bringing together perspectives from industry, investors, academics and human rights organizations in GNI to create credible and broadly accepted guidance’.
The present guidance, among other things, advises GNI participants to challenge governments in domestic courts or to seek the help of international human rights bodies when encountering governmental restrictions that appear inconsistent with international human rights laws or standards on freedom of expression.
The GNI was created in late 2008 (EP10, issue 8, p5) in response to reputational problems experienced by internet service providers over web content restrictions imposed by governments, particularly in China. Yahoo was widely criticised last year for handing over details of online dissidents to the Chinese authorities and Google was accused of allowing internet searches in China to be filtered.
GNI founders had hoped telecoms companies such as France Telecom and Vodafone would become participants, but this has not yet happened – and modifying the guidelines appears to be an attempt to widen the initiative’s appeal.
Of the 24 GNI participants only three are companies – Yahoo, Google and Microsoft. The rest are NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, investors including the Calvert Group, or academic institutions, such as the University of Southern California.
Participants have until December 2010 to establish internal policies and procedures consistent with GNI principles. From 2011 independent assessors will conduct audits to check that their internal management systems are ready to implement the principles, and from January 2012 assessors will review responses to ‘specific government demands implicating freedom of expression or privacy’.
The participants are funding the GNI with $100,000 (£61,000) a year for a two-year start-up period. That amount will be adjusted if and when more organizations join.
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