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The Global Network Initiative

14 November, 2008
By Allison Orr

A group of human rights and civil society groups, investors, academics, and ICT companies has formed a partnership to implement guidelines for upholding freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.  The Global Network Initiative includes members such as Google, Vodafone, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Human Rights Watch and the Elecctronic Frontier Foundation.

These organisations and groups have spent several years developing principles on free expression and privacy, based largely on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other internationally recognised laws and standards for human rights.  There will also be a Governance Charter and a set of Implementation Guidelines which will provide more detail on how companies should adhere to the principles.  It is hoped that many more companies and NGOs will join the Network.

The principles and guidelines are the first set of uniform standards for ICT companies in dealing with authorities who wish to impose limits to free speech, and represent an attempt by many of the major Internet companies to counter negative publicity in recent years over cooperation with repressive regimes.  The Principles commit the companies to "avoid or minimise the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression".

The Network has some critics, however, who argue that loopholes have been written in to allow companies to continue some of their most questionable activities.  High profile human rights organisation, Amnesty International, dropped out of earlier discussions and has not endorsed the final Principles as they believe they are not strong enough.

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