The Global Net Initiative and Corporate Responsibility

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Does information technology raise human rights concerns? Where are the legal borders of the Internet? Is positive law the only law, or should companies take supererogatory efforts? (meaning do we stop only at laws explicitly written down?)

Yesterday our course had a round table conversation with Mark Chandler Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of CISCO, Chuck Cosson Senior Policy Counsel of Microsoft and Dunstan Hope  Managing Director ICT Practice, Managing Director Advisory Services of Businesses for Social Responsibility. The outcomes proved to be filled with questions and difficult problems.

The Global Net Initiative (GNI) was formally launched in December 2008 and its primary goal is to further the ideals of freedom of expression and privacy online. The GNI has implementation guidelines for participating companies that outline the principles of membership. These include freedom of expression, privacy, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and governance, accountability and transparency.

Within the concept of Global Net and human rights online our course discussion centered around the roles of businesses that facilitate online infrastructure we invited guests to propose their questions and ideas about the broader spectrum of the global Internet and it’s implications for businesses, policies and human rights.

One approach to GNI issues is to allow Governments to negotiate international issues of information and distribution. This can be advantageous for tech companies especially when the issues at hand cut across industry and through global treaty obligations. We discussed the concept of re-casting encryption issues as a government to government issue, thus affecting how an entire industry gets treated rather than singling out a particular company.

Is it useful for governments to handle disputes rather than corporations? When are these debates between two enterprises rather than between two governments?

Another huge benefit of GNI is the possibility of having uninvolved agents evaluate a situation. This sets up personal relationships that allow for collaboration between industry and academia that might not otherwise be possible.The diplomacy between nations and companies is an integral part of the ideals in GNI.

If more private diplomacy works better than naming and shaming, what is the best way to publicize/inform citizens of these types of negotiations? Do citizens have a right to know about these negotiations as they are in progress?

Are human rights more of an externality for some companies than others? (externality here meaning, if they do something that affects society, does it affect their sales)  How can the Global Net Initiative incentivize smaller companies where Human Rights?

We’d love your thoughts in the comments.

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