The Global Network Initiative’s Jason Pielemeier on Internet FreedomJun 29, 2021
"What does it mean for an Internet company that is operating everywhere in the world simultaneously to protect users' rights? How can the company do that in a meaningful way, despite government demands and the push-and-pull that they may be facing?"
Orchid's Derek Silva discussed these questions, which are at the heart of the Global Network Initiative (GNI)'s efforts, with its Policy Director Jason Pielemeier on this week's episode of the Priv8 Podcast.
The GNI brings experts together to solve global human rights issues
"[The GNI is] a membership organization, but we're not an industry association, although we have technology companies from around the world as members," said Jason. "We're not a coalition of NGOs, although we have lots of human rights and media freedom organizations in our membership as well."
The organization also consists of academic institutions and individuals that specialize in relevant themes in their research. "It's a 'big tent' with a lot of expertise from various perspectives," Pielemeier said. "All of those folks come together through GNI to work on issues related to freedom of expression and privacy in the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) sector."
"Primarily, what we're focused on is how governments and companies interact when it comes to content and user data: the demands and restrictions that governments put in place, and that companies [therefore] have to deal with as part of their business operations all over the world."
How can companies deal with government requests that jeopardize user safety?
GNI was founded about 10 years ago when "big companies like Google...that were at the 'tip of the spear' of developing user services on the World Wide Web were beginning to realize that they didn't just have to follow US law," but also the laws of "governments that had jurisdiction over [international] users."
Some of these governments "started to make demands of these companies," including orders to censor and remove certain pieces of content. Some of the demands were for user data.
"That presented issues for companies, particularly in countries where it was clear that governments didn't have the same respect for user rights that the companies felt was important," said Jason.
"There were some high-profile incidents where journalists or other activists ended up having their data handed over to a government by one of these large platforms, and they were eventually prosecuted--or worse."
Jason explained that eventually, conversation about these kinds of incidents led to the formation of the GNI Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, which guide companies on how best to protect their users' rights in the face of government demands.
"The principles don't tell companies they have to follow whatever domestic law is being asserted; neither do they tell them that they must always resist a government demand." Instead, "they offer a framework for analysis so that the company can do whatever is within its capacity to protect its users' rights to the maximum extent possible."
Listen to Derek's full interview with Jason. New episodes of Priv8 are published every week--so don't forget to subscribe on your favorite streaming service.