Reporters Without Borders held a press conference on Monday at which 25 investment groups announced they had signed a statement on freedom of expression and the internet. See coverage from the NYT and Wired. Paul Frankenstein also heroically live-blogged the whole thing. (Was anybody else there to blog it? If you know of anybody please leave a link in the comments section.)
Click here for a PDF of the full statement with a list of all the companies that signed on. None of the media reports included the full thing, so here is the core list of commitments made by the investment groups:
To help advance freedom of expression, the undersigned:
- Reaffirm that freedom of expression is a universal human right that companies have an obligation to respect throughout their worldwide operations, and, in particular, in countries with a history of serious and widespread human rights violations;
- Reaffirm that Internet sector businesses have a particular responsibility in this domain for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Their long-term success depends on a broadly connected Internet that is free of censorship; and
- Millions of people depend on their products and services for reliable access to news and information;
- Recognize that, according to numerous and credible sources, a number of countries throughout the world do not tolerate public dissent and monitor and control citizens’ access to the Internet as a means of suppressing freedom of expression;
- Recognize that some businesses help authorities in repressive countries to censor and mount surveillance of the Internet, and others turn a blind eye to the use made of their equipment;
- State that respect for freedom of expression is a factor we consider in assessing a com pany’s social performance;
- Announce that we will monitor the operations of Internet businesses in repressive regime countries to evaluate their impact on access to news and information;
- Commit ourselves to supporting, at annual general meetings of publicly listed companies, shareholder resolutions that we believe are favorable to freedom of expression or otherwise promote the principles of this declaration;
- Call on Internet businesses to adopt and make public ethical codes stressing their commitment to freedom of expression and defining their obligations to uphold these freedoms, and
- Call on Internet businesses to make information public that will allow investors to assess how each firm is acting to ensure that its products and services are not being used to commit human rights violations (including, products and services that enable Internet censorship, surveillance and identification of dissidents).
The Associated Press story about the announcement (which is what ran in Wired and InformationWeek) also reports in the very last paragraph that on Monday Cisco released its first-ever Citizenship Report - largely in response to investor pressure. It can be downloaded here. Here is what they have to say about human rights:
Emerging Issue: Internet Use and Human Rights
Cisco does not in any way participate in the censorship of information by governments. Moreover, Cisco complies with all U.S. government regulations which prohibit the sale of our products to certain destinations or to users who misuse our products or resell them to prohibited users.
Some countries have chosen, as a matter of national policy, to restrict or limit access to information on the Internet to their citizens. Functionality inherent in the network management features of Cisco equipment may be employed by such nations to restrict this access, but it is important to note that this is the same functionality that libraries and corporate network administrators use to block sites in accordance with policies they establish. Cisco has not specially designed or marketed products for any government, or any regional market, to censor Internet content from citizens.
Cisco cannot determine what information is regulated by sovereign nations inside their own countries. Even within nations that have signed the UN Global Compact there is rich debate in the courts and society concerning access to the Internet, lines between commercial speech and political speech, and related issues. Cisco supports transparency in the way the Internet is used and complies with all applicable regulations.
For more information about technology and trade compliance of Cisco and our channel partners, visit our Export Compliance Website <www.cisco.com/go/csr/compliance>.
Despite Cisco's claims of clean hands, many people dispute whether Cisco is violating the spirit if not the letter of the law by selling surveillance equipment to the Chinese police, who are well-documented abusers of human rights. Others are hoping to change the law to make such sales clearly illegal.