Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Others to Address Human Rights Violations

An important press release came out this week regarding a coalition of Internet companies, IT providers, human rights organizations, and academics joining forces to address human rights violations enabled by technologies and practices by some of the member organizations, such as providing means of surveillance for regimes like China to identify and jail dissident citizens. From the release:

A diverse group of companies, academics, investors, technology leaders and human rights organizations announced today its intention to seek solutions to the free expression and privacy challenges faced by technology and communications companies doing business internationally.

The process – which aims to produce a set of principles guiding company behavior when faced with laws, regulations and policies that interfere with the achievement of human rights – marks a new phase in efforts that these groups began in 2006.

Last year, Google, Microsoft, Vodafone and Yahoo!, with the facilitation of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and advice from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, initiated a series of dialogues to gain a fuller understanding of free expression and privacy as they relate to the use of technology worldwide.

At the same time, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) was also convening technology leaders, investors and human rights advocates to discuss how to advance civil liberties on the Internet in the face of laws that run contrary to international standards for human rights.

Both processes benefited from dialogue, research and policy expertise on internet filtering and surveillance practices from the OpenNet Consensus, a coalition of academic institutions including the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and School of Law-Boalt Hall, the Berkman Center and others.

The new combined group, in addition to developing the principles, seeks to advance their effectiveness by establishing a framework to implement the principles, hold signatories accountable and provide for ongoing learning.

“Technology companies have played a vital role building the economy and providing tools important for democratic reform in developing countries. But some governments have found ways to turn technology against their citizens — monitoring legitimate online activities and censoring democratic material,” CDT Executive Director Leslie Harris said. “It is vital that we identify solutions that preserve the enormous democratic value provided by technological development, while at the same time protecting the human rights and civil liberties of those who stand to benefit from that expansion.”

More commentary John Palfrey and Rebecca MacKinoon, as well as Yahoo itself.

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