Launching a dialogue on free expression with telecoms

Posted by Bob Boorstin, Director, Public Policy, and Lewis Segall, Senior Counsel, Ethics and Compliance

(Cross-posted from the Google Europe Blog)

We wake up every day at Google asking ourselves: how can we get more information to more people around the world? Unfortunately, officials in too many governments wake up every day asking themselves: how can we stop our people from getting more information?

Those opposing questions lay at the heart of our decision back in 2008 to be a founding member company of the Global Network Initiative (GNI). The GNI is a group of companies, human rights groups and NGOs, socially responsible investors and academics that works to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.

From the beginning, we hoped that the GNI would find common ground with other companies and groups around the world.  And today we’re happy to report that the GNI is entering into a two-year collaboration with a group of eight European telecommunications firms to “find a shared and practical approach to promoting freedom of expression and privacy rights around the world.”

The eight firms — Alcatel-Lucent, France Telecom-Orange, Millicom, Nokia Siemens Networks, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, and Vodafone — provide services and equipment in scores of countries.

The firms, known collectively as the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue, have been meeting among themselves since 2011 to discuss freedom of expression and privacy rights in their sector, and have developed a set of guiding principles. Under the new partnership, they are not joining GNI — but the GNI will house the Industry Dialogue’s work and provide a place where members of both groups can learn from each other, develop new ideas, and collaborate in protecting and advancing user privacy and freedom of expression.

For the Industry Dialogue, we hope the arrangement will give the eight companies the chance to see the advantages we’ve found in an alliance that goes beyond industry and includes NGOs and others. For the GNI — a group born of the conviction that there is strength in numbers and a diverse membership — the arrangement marks a concrete step to building a broader and more global platform to help protect user rights.