No more excuses for Western companies to aid in internet censorship and human rights abuses

24 01 2007

Tech giants; Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, and Vodafone have agreed to work with a diverse group of academics, investors, technology leaders and human rights groups to “produce a set of principles guiding company behavior when faced with laws, regulations and policies that interfere with the achievement of human rights.”
It was encouraging to read this, and just goes to show that the hard work and effort by civil society groups, netizens, and hacktivists in pressuring western technology companies to stop assisting repressive regimes like China to stop violating human rights has paid off, and at least they are now engaged in dialogue.

Examples of human rights abuses include CISCO and other western technology companies such as Fortinet supplying countries with filtering technology/hardware which are then used reportedly by the government for human rights abuses. Google, MSN, Yahoo! have in the past reportedly been complicit in Chinese censorship of search engines, turning over the names of users of their email service or shutting down the accounts of bloggers that the government dislikes.

In the past, this has all been done with the excuse by companies that they had no choice but to follow local laws. A rather weak excuse, but then again profits have always motivated companies, especially with the promise of profits in huge markets like China’s.

What i find most encouraging about this proposed “set of guiding principles” (guiding company behavior when faced with laws, regulations and policies that interfere with the achievement of human rights) and Industry standard is that it at least it will take away the weak exuse of companies “having no choice but to comply with local laws”. Furthermore, it is a positive step that those involved have decided to sit down and confront the problem rather than continue to ignore it. The fact that 4 of the tech giants google, microsoft, yahoo, and vodfone are also involved is also encouraging.

However, what i find disconcerting is the conspicuous absence of CISCO. Kudos to Microsoft, google, Yahoo! and Vodafone, but where is CISCO? Incase, you did not already know, CISCO just happens to be China’s biggest supplier of internet filtering technology/net working hardware. CISCO’s equipment technology forms the backbone of China’s efficient, sophisticated, complex filtering matrix.

Members of the group plan to complete the process and talks in 2007. Let us all hope that the process will not simply be a talk-fest, but that something positive, significant, and with real teeth emerges out of those talks. May this be one step towards a victory for accountability and human rights.

These are some other members that have agreed to sign on to the talks:

  • Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School
  • Boston Common Asset Management
  • Business for Social Responsibility (Facilitator)
  • Calvert Group
  • Center for Democracy and Technology (Facilitator)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Domini Social Investments LLC
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Enterprise Privacy Group
  • F&C Asset Management
  • Google, Inc.
  • Human Rights First
  • Human Rights in China
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Business Leaders Forum
  • International Council on Human Rights Policy
  • Microsoft
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Trillium Asset Management
  • United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary-General on business & human rights (Observer status)
  • University of California, Berkeley School of Law-Boalt Hall
  • Vodafone
  • Yahoo! Inc.

For more information check out these sites

Full article from From Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)

http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/01/18/tech-companies-get-serious-about-global-rights-issues-but-wheres-cisco/

http://tech.blorge.com/Structure:%20/2007/01/20/can-internet-freedoms-code-of-conduct-make-a-difference/

http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/2007/01/google_yahoo_mi.html

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