Meg Roggensack Testifies before Helsinki Commission on the Responsibilities of Companies to Protect Internet Freedom

Washington, D.C. – Today, in testimony before the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Human Rights First’s Meg Roggensack detailed the broad scope of online safety challenges posed by repressive regimes and the responsibility of technology companies to confront these problems. In her testimony, she noted that the Global Online Freedom Act has the potential to help ensure stronger U.S. policy alignment and wider corporate engagement in identifying and responding to threats to internet freedom. Roggensack’s remarks outlined the challenges that present themselves to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector as they attempt to recognize Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vision of “one internet,” a concept she outlined in her landmark speech on internet freedom two years ago. The U.N. Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights recognize that States bear the principal obligation to protect human rights, but that companies also have the responsibility to respect human rights throughout their business activities, and so should commit themselves to exercising human rights “due diligence.” “The human rights challenges are significant. They evolve nearly as rapidly as ICT products and services themselves, and they affect a range of companies, from Internet providers to telecommunications companies, credit card providers and manufacturers of mainframes and switching technology,” said Roggensack in her testimony. “In the past year alone, we’ve witnessed government takedowns of entire services, as well as specific content, in Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Indonesia, and India; Iran’s launch of a censored and controlled country-specific internet; China’s imposition of a warning system to chill Twitter users’ speech; and legislation in this country, such as the United States’ Senate’s Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S.3414), that, while aimed at empowering companies to aid in the fight against cyber security threats, would give companies broad powers to engage in content monitoring and censorship, even where users have been assured the company will not engage in such practices.” Roggensack also noted that the Global Initiative Network (GNI) is currently the only initiative that allows ICT companies to address human rights due diligence in a comprehensive, credible, and transparent way. Voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives can play a valuable role in helping companies address potential human rights risks. The GNI was established in 2008 with the goal of protecting online freedom of expression and privacy in the face of government pressure to comply with domestic laws which may run up against international human rights norms. The multi-stakeholder group is comprised of companies, investors, academics, and civil society organizations, including Human Rights First, which is a member of GNI’s Board of Directors. “The threats to Internet freedom are pervasive and proliferating – as the headlines confirm. Without the full engagement of ICT companies in this battle, we can’t realize the vision of ‘one Internet,’” concluded Roggensack. “That vision is vitally important for the millions of people living under repressive regimes. The Internet is their ‘virtual town square,’ as essential to them as to us, in preserving and promoting democracy and human rights in this century.“


Published on October 19, 2012


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