Google, Microsoft and Yahoo Evaluated Against Freedom of Expression and Privacy Principles
In 2005, a Chinese human rights activist named Shi Tao was sentenced to ten years in prison for sending an email through his Yahoo account relating to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. As shocking as this case was, we soon learned that censorship and surveillance of the Internet is widespread, in China and in many countries around the world. These revelations ultimately led to the creation of a human rights organization called the Global Network Initiative (GNI). Domini is a founding member of the GNI, and currently serves on its board of directors. The GNI is truly multi-stakeholder, with corporations, human rights organizations, academics and investors represented. Together, we developed a set of principles on freedom of expression and privacy to help guide corporations when they receive requests from governments that may violate these fundamental rights.
In the fourth quarter, GNI crossed an important milestone with the completion of the first round of assessments of founding companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. GNI member companies submit to a three-phase independent assessment process to allow the GNI board to evaluate whether they are in compliance with GNI’s principles. In this last phase, an independent firm looks at a series of cases – actual examples of how the companies responded to government requests for data or to alter or take down content. This was the first assessment of its kind.
The GNI board met in Washington to receive these assessment reports and to vote on compliance. We determined that each company is in compliance with the GNI Principles, meaning that they have demonstrated good faith efforts to implement them in practice. We recognize that each company receives thousands of government requests per year and that it is not possible to evaluate each and every instance, or to determine what a representative sample might look like. Nevertheless, we are confident that the process was meaningful and credible. The GNI published the results of these assessments in a report on its website (www.globalnetworkinitiative.org).
Recent revelations about NSA surveillance efforts could not be included in the GNI assessment, because companies are legally prohibited from even acknowledging the existence of NSA requests. The GNI is seeking greater transparency from our government, and Domini has signed several letters to this effect.