Global Declaration of Privacy, Speech Rights

In a major declaration of principles upholding privacy and online speech rights against government intrusion, the Global Network Initiative, a group of human rights and public interest organizations -- in cooperation with tech giants Google, Microsoft and Yahoo -- are establishing a global code of conduct. This code commits the companies to “avoid or minimize the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression." France Télécom and Vodafone are also considering participating.

Michael Posner, president of Human Rights First, told the New York Times, “It sets up an accountability mechanism that will allow each of the companies to be evaluated over time.”

Stating that privacy is “a human right and guarantor of human dignity,” the initiative commits the companies to try to resist overly broad demands for restrictions on freedom of speech and overly broad demands that could compromise the privacy of their users.

In addition to laying out the code of conduct, the initiative will provide a non-governmental forum for the companies and human rights groups to jointly resist demands for censorship.

The initiative was begun after human rights groups and Congress criticized the Internet companies for cooperating with Chinese government censorship and demands for information on dissidents.

Organizations supporting the principles include: the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, Business for Social Responsibility, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the Calvert Group.

Not signing on, to no one's surprise, are: AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel.