SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- BSR today published "Protecting Human Rights in the Digital Age," a new report describing the evolving freedom of expression and privacy risks faced by information and communications technology (ICT) companies and how these risks can be more effectively mitigated by the industry.
"Today's digital technologies provide huge opportunities for free expression, but the increasingly pervasive interaction between ICT and society also brings a wide range of new and unpredictable human rights risks and ethical dilemmas for companies in the ICT industry," said Dunstan Allison Hope, the report's author and BSR's managing director, ICT practice. "Whether it is the recent shutdown of entire mobile networks, the removal of user generated content, or demands that access be granted to messages sent over mobile devices, it is clearer today than ever before that companies across the whole ICT industry need to undertake human rights due diligence."
A key theme in the report is the complex relationship between human rights, ICT companies, law enforcement agencies, and national security concerns. There are legitimate reasons why governments, law enforcement agencies, and companies may restrict the free flow of information (such as removing images of child exploitation) or allow access to personal information (such as tackling violent crime). However, at the same time, there is always the risk that governments and law enforcement agencies will make demands of the private sector to undertake activities that infringe on the human rights of privacy or freedom of expression.
There are a number of different points across the ICT value chain in which governments can interact with private sector companies, sometimes at the level of content or personal information, and sometimes at the product or service functionality level. It is at these intersections between governments and ICT companies that the need to respect, protect, and advance human rights is most significant. The main body of the report sets out these risk drivers across eight segments of the ICT industry:
- Telecommunications Services – such as risks arising from law enforcement investigations
- Cell Phones and Mobile Devices – such as risks arising from location-based services (mapping, advertising etc)
- Internet Services – such as demands to remove, block, or filter content, or deactivate user accounts
- Enterprise Software, Data Storage, and IT Services – such as risks arising from providing services to high-risk customers
- Semiconductors and Chips – such as risks arising from configuring hardware to allow remote access
- Network Equipment – such as risks arising from product functionality designed to restrict content
- Consumer Electronics – such as pressure to pre-install certain types of software to restrict access to content or allow for surveillance
- Security Software – such as pressure to offer simpler means of unscrambling encrypted information
"The report concludes that risks to the human rights of freedom of expression and privacy are relevant to the full ICT value chain. What's needed now is a concerted effort by the ICT industry and its various stakeholders—especially governments, human rights groups, and academics—to explore how freedom of expression and privacy can be most effectively protected in the context of legitimate law enforcement and national security activities," said Hope, who is also co-author of Big Business, Big Responsibilities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). "Individual companies can inform this dialogue by undertaking human rights due diligence across their own products, services, technologies and operations."
The report was commissioned by the Global Network Initiative.
A leader in corporate responsibility since 1992, BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration. With offices in Asia, Europe, and North America, BSR uses its expertise in the environment, human rights, economic development, and governance and accountability to guide global companies toward creating a just and sustainable world. Visit www.bsr.org for more information.
About the Global Network Initiative
The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics dedicated to protecting and advancing freedom of expression and privacy in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. To learn more, visit www.globalnetworkinitiative.org.