Industry Dialogue Submission to UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Read the full submission here.

Building on last year’s 2016 report to the Human Rights Commission, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye is completing a study of freedom of expression in the telecommunications and internet access sector.

The Industry Dialogue is pleased to share our submission to David Kaye’s study. We highlighted a series of challenges telecommunications companies face, including unclear legal frameworks in their operating environments, governments seeking direct access to company networks, and the rise in government restrictions of networks and communications services — a topic we continue to collaborate on with the Global Network Initiative.

The Special Rapporteur also intends to identify best practices for governments and companies in this next phase of his report.

For governments, we explored elements of good practices on the lawful disruptions of access to online services, including those identified in our submission to the Australian Government’s draft guidelines for the use of Section 313(3) of the Telecommunications Act 1997. Clear laws that respect international conventions and narrowly define by whom, how and in what circumstances law enforcement requests can be made are crucial to protecting privacy and free expression.

Industry Dialogue members urge additional telecommunications companies to join and implement the Industry Dialogue Guiding Principles in their operations to the fullest extent that does not place them in violation of domestic laws and regulations. Our submission offers a model for the sector as we illustrated examples of each of the eight companies in the Industry Dialogue implementing the principles in practice.

Global Network Initiative and Telecommunications Industry Dialogue Joint Statement on Network and Service Shutdowns

Read the statement in Russian, French, or Spanish.

The Global Network Initiative and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue are deeply concerned by the increasing number of government orders to shut down or restrict access to communication networks and related services around the world.

Government-mandated disruptions of communications networks, network services (such as SMS), or internet services (such as social media, search engines, or news sites) can undermine security and public safety, threaten free expression, restrict access to vital emergency, payment and health services, and disrupt contact with family members and friends. In some countries, the orders frequently occur at politically sensitive moments, during unrest or in the lead-up to elections, restricting the free flow of information.

Disruptions also negatively affect a broad range of economic activity, preventing financial transactions, stalling e-commerce and undermining business operations. Even temporary disruptions may complicate the provision of medical care and education, which increasingly rely on the sharing of digital information.

“Government-ordered disruptions of communications networks and services are on the rise. The consequences of such orders can be as dire as the security threats they ostensibly target,” said Mark Stephens, CBE, Independent Chair of the GNI Board. They cut off citizens from essential information and contact with loved ones, impede the work of emergency and security services, and undermine economic activity,” he said.

In a recent landmark resolution, the United Nations Human Rights Council stated that it “Condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.” The UN HRC specifically “calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.”

The protection of national security and public safety are important government concerns. Network shutdowns, and the wholesale blocking of internet services, however, are drastic measures that often risk being disproportionate in their impact. Governments who employ these measures often do so without justifying them as necessary and proportionate under international human rights standards.

Clear, precise and transparent legal frameworks regarding government authority to restrict communications do not exist in all states, and provisions for adequate, independent oversight are often absent. Such safeguards are critical to ensure restrictions are strictly necessary and proportionate.  Where the rule of law is weak, these orders can present even greater human rights risks.

As a first step, the Industry Dialogue and the GNI urge governments to be transparent with their citizens about the government role in shutting down or restricting networks and services, and the legal justifications for any restrictions. Importantly, shutdown orders should permit companies to disclose in a timely manner to their customers that services have been restricted pursuant to a government order.

“ICT companies, from mobile network operators to social media companies, should cooperate with each other and with experts across academia, governments, international institutions, civil society, and the media to raise awareness of the serious, long-term social and economic impacts of these disruptions, said Sidsela Nyebak of Telenor Group, Chair of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue. “ Stakeholders should work to inform public debate and encourage human rights-based laws and policies,” she said.


About the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue

 The Telecommunications Industry Dialogue is a group of telecommunications operators and vendors who jointly address freedom of expression and privacy in the telecommunications sector in the context of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These companies have a global footprint, providing telecommunications services and equipment to consumers, businesses, and governments in nearly 100 countries worldwide. In March of 2013, the Industry Dialogue adopted a set of Guiding Principles, which explore the interaction and boundaries between a government’s duty to protect human rights and the corporate responsibility of telecommunications companies to respect human rights.

For more information on the Industry Dialogue, visit our website.

About the Global Network Initiative

Launched in 2008, the Global Network Initiative occupies a unique place in the global conversation about freedom of expression and privacy in the Information and Communications Technology Sector. The GNI is a multi-stakeholder forum that brings together information and communications technology companies, civil society (including human rights and press freedom groups), academics and investors from around the world to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy.

A full list of GNI members and observers can be found here.


RightsCon presents a chance to discuss Good Policy Practices and the ID Principles

The Industry Dialogue recently spent three days in San Francisco speaking about its Legal Frameworks Resource and ways in which companies are implementing its Guiding Principles. ID members served as panelists and engaged with stakeholders from around the world at RightsCon, a digital rights conference held from March 30 – April 1, 2016.

The Industry Dialogue hosted a panel entitled Good Policy Practices in Online Freedom, which complemented its similar panel at the Freedom Online Conference in Mongolia and highlighted the ID’s Legal Frameworks Resource. The panel was moderated by ID Chair Jeff Dygert of AT&T and featured Yves Nissim of Orange, the newly-appointed Assistant Director-General of Communication and Information at UNESCO, Frank La Rue, Peter Micek of Access, and Gigi Alford of the United States Department of State.

Panelists emphasized that government communications surveillance programs should be subject to effective oversight mechanisms and that policies should be developed in a transparent manner, including a range of stakeholders.

Panelists also cited positive examples of telecommunications companies engaging with other stakeholders to push back against government actions that threatened freedom of expression, and they reflected on how the Freedom Online Coalition and intergovernmental organizations can promote laws and policies that protect the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

Yves Nissim also spoke on a GNI-Industry Dialogue panel dedicated to extremist content online, as well as a panel on remedy in the ICT sector. Facilitator Lisl Brunner spoke on panels exploring the ID’s implementation of its Principles in India, Malaysia, and Pakistan and the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability.

The conference presented ID members with the opportunity to meet with UN Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.  Professor Kaye informed stakeholders about his recent visit to Tajikistan and provided an overview of his project examining freedom of expression and the private sector.  ID members also discussed the challenges facing telecommunications companies when governments order service shutdowns.

In 2017, RightsCon will be held in Brussels, presenting an opportunity for the Industry Dialogue to continue these conversations with European Union institutions and experts.

The Global Network Initiative and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue join forces to advance freedom of expression and privacy


February 1, 2016 – The multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative (GNI) and the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (ID) are pleased to announce that seven global telecommunication companies will join with GNI to promote and advance freedom of expression and privacy around the world.

 From February 1st, Millicom, Nokia, Orange, Telefónica, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, and Vodafone Group will have official observer status within the GNI. Observer status, which lasts for one year and precedes full GNI membership, is an opportunity for the ID companies to engage directly within GNI’s unique multi-stakeholder forum of ICT companies, human rights and press freedom groups, academics and investors.

Read this statement in French, Russian and Spanish.

The observer year will include hands-on participation in GNI committees and policy work, the sharing of best practices on conducting human rights due diligence and working together on a review of the GNI Implementation Guidelines to cover the range of companies in the ICT sector. During the observer period, the GNI will also observe and take part in ID Board meetings and events.

Since 2013, the GNI and the Industry Dialogue have engaged in a collaboration focused on the challenges faced by ICT companies when government demands conflict with the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. Becoming official observers is the next step in this engagement. The agreed aim is that at the completion of the observer year in March 2017, these seven companies become full members – a move that would extend GNI’s global company constituency to encompass Internet companies, telecommunications operators and telecommunications equipment vendors.

“GNI looks forward in 2016 to deepening our mutual engagement with the ID companies on the critical privacy and free expression challenges we face,” said GNI Independent Board Chair, Mark Stephens, CBE.  “This observer year brings us one step closer to our aim to extend the reach of GNI Principles to hundreds of millions more users around the globe.”

“We launched the ID in March 2013 to share knowledge on how to best implement the responsibility of telecommunications companies to respect freedom of expression and privacy. We have valued the close collaboration with the GNI over the past three years, and we look forward to bringing into dialogue nearly 50 diverse organizations to share lessons, build leverage and to promote these rights globally,” commented Patrik Hiselius of TeliaSonera, founding Chair of the Industry Dialogue.

“We are encouraged that these global telecommunications companies are willing to step up to jointly address increasing threats to privacy and free expression,” said Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights Director at Human Rights Watch.  “We look forward to working with them to foster business accountability, credibility and transparency, and to advance the human rights of users in challenging markets around the globe.”

Unlike full members of GNI, observer companies do not participate in GNI’s independent assessment process, but become subject to GNI Principles and Assessment when membership is attained. In 2016, current ID members will continue to abide by the ID Guiding Principles.


About the GNI

Founded in 2008, The Global Network Initiative is an international multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics, who have created a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector. GNI has created a framework of principles and implementation guidelines based on international human rights standards and a high-level forum to deliberate on the challenges of corporate responsibility in the ICT sector. GNI member companies commit to, and are independently assessed on, their adherence to GNI Principles. Current company members are Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn. Civil society members include Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

For more information on GNI’s members, principles and assessment, and on observer status, visit our website.


About the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue

 The Telecommunications Industry Dialogue is a group of telecommunications operators and vendors who jointly address freedom of expression and privacy in the telecommunications sector in the context of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These companies have a global footprint, providing telecommunications services and equipment to consumers, businesses, and governments in nearly 100 countries worldwide. In March of 2013, the Industry Dialogue adopted a set of Guiding Principles, which explore the interaction and boundaries between a government’s duty to protect human rights and the corporate responsibility of telecommunications companies to respect human rights.

For more information on the Industry Dialogue, visit our website.


When time is not on your side: Tackling transparency on human rights


by Christine Diamente

Former Chair of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue

Head of Brand and Corporate Sustainability, Alcatel-Lucent


On November 11th, I had the immense pleasure of sharing a panel session with Marcela Manubens (Unilever Global VP for Social Impact) at the Ethical Corporation 9th Annual CR Reporting and Communications Summit  (ERC).  Our session was dedicated to Human Rights reporting.  We explored contrasting approaches to human rights:  I shared the experience of the Telecoms Industry Dialogue’s creation, nine companies coming together to share best practices and approaches relating to freedom of expression and privacy, and creating an industry standard through our Guiding Principles.  Marcela shared Unilever’s pioneering approach to human rights social reporting and how one company is driving a new standard for the sector on human rights transparency as a whole.


Our approaches were different yet with one shared objective:  to take leadership on industry challenges relating to human rights and to be transparent on our approaches to tackle these challenges.  Our audience remarked:  “time is not on our side—we need urgent action on human rights today”.  And the result of this joint session was fascinating:  our audience engaged with many questions and a commitment to join our approaches to push forward greater transparency by stakeholders on human rights.  View the video of this session and Christine’s presentation.

Rights and ICT Sector Development at the Stockholm Internet Forum


by Milka Pietikainen


I was pleased to represent the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue and Millicom at the Stockholm Internet Forum on 21-22 October 2015 and to interact with experts from around the globe on the topic of improving access to the benefits of the Internet. Together with the Global Network Initiative, the Industry Dialogue organized an “unconference” session on the subject of Making Freedom of Expression and Privacy a Key Part of ICT Development. Patrik Hiselius (TeliaSonera), Judith Lichtenberg (Global Network Initiative), Babette Ngene (Internews), and Marcin de Kaminski (SIDA) joined me in sharing perspectives on how donor, development and international financial organizations can incorporate freedom of expression and privacy into their ICT sector development projects in order to better ensure that the benefits of technology are genuine for the people they impact. From the perspective of Millicom, working in many countries that receive international aid and financing, such organizations can have real influence in promoting best practice and building local capacity.


Our unconference session was inspired by the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue’s input to World Bank consultations on revisions to its Environmental and Social Framework in the first quarter of 2015. The Industry Dialogue recommended that the World Bank evaluate the risks and impacts to freedom of expression and privacy in a partner country prior to financing ICT sector projects and throughout these projects’ life-cycles. The evaluation would ideally include a review of the partner country’s legal framework related to freedom of expression and privacy. If the framework were unclear or inconsistent with international human rights standards, the World Bank could include mitigation strategies in its borrower’s Environmental and Social Commitment Plan. Additionally, the Bank could explore providing training and technical capacity-building aimed at making the domestic legal framework consistent with international standards and ensuring that government officials follow them.

Unfortunately, the second draft of the World Bank’s Social and Environmental Framework did not incorporate our suggestion. The absence of safeguards or policies related to human rights has been the subject of criticism from UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, who has recommended that the World Bank adopt a human rights policy. At a minimum, Alston counsels the Bank to adopt a “due diligence policy to enable it to adjust or reject projects that would otherwise lead to, or support, human rights violations.” Human Rights Watch has also recommended that the World Bank assess risks to freedom of expression, privacy, and other fundamental rights prior to approving projects with ICT components and throughout the project life-cycle, that it adopt mitigation strategies, and that it raise concerns with government officials regarding censorship, illegal surveillance, and network shutdowns.

In addition to our unconference, Patrik also participated in the final wrap-up session and reflected on the value that Industry Dialogue companies have found in engaging with each other and a variety of stakeholders with the aim of increasing transparency around our operations.

We are grateful to SIDA and the participants of the 2015 Stockholm Internet Forum for providing the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue with the opportunity share our challenges and work with the participants. The Industry Dialogue and the GNI would be pleased to share the lessons that we have learned with other donor or international financial institutions. We would also welcome the chance to work with SIDA to increase company participation in next year’s Stockholm Internet Forum and to share ideas as to how the Forum could provide more opportunities for interaction and trust building between different stakeholder groups.


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Building further on the notion of transparency

by Patrik Hiselius, TeliaSonera

On Tuesday this week, October 20th, TeliaSonera published both its first mid-year Sustainability Update, as well as its third Law Enforcement Disclosure Report (previously named Transparency Report).


A main purpose of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (ID) is shared learning. Members of the ID, presently nine telcos, meet regularly to share experience, ideas and tools in our joint efforts to respect and support freedom of expression and privacy of customers. Inspired by shared learnings through the ID including with external stakeholders, and committed to transparency, TeliaSonera this week published its third transparency report – developing further transparency reporting contexts and contents.

Sustainability ‘Transparency Reports’, although a general term, have so far mostly covered surveillance issues. TeliaSonera has now published a broader transparency report, adding transparency regarding our work on anti-bribery and corruption, customer privacy, responsible procurement and occupational health and safety. The report has been audited and therefore qualifies as a mid-year sustainability update. From now on TeliaSonera will report on sustainability on a six-month basis.

In the sustainability update, TeliaSonera has included statistics on the number of law enforcement surveillance requests in nine of TeliaSonera’s markets: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Moldova, Nepal, Norway, Spain and Sweden. The statistics have been audited by TeliaSonera’s regular auditors, just like the company’s financial reports. This Law Enforcement Disclosure Report includes more context, including information on unconventional requests and demands, laws providing governments with direct access, and case studies.

We look forward to continuing to build on the notion of transparency both within the ID and together with ID with the wider external stakeholder community.



Join the Industry Dialogue and GNI at the Stockholm Internet Forum


The Telecommunications Industry Dialogue is pleased to be attending the Stockholm Internet Forum on October 20-22.  The Industry Dialogue and the Global Network Initiative are hosting an Unconference session on Wednesday, October 21, entitled Making Freedom of Expression and Privacy a key part of ICT development.  This dynamic discussion will explore how donor and development organizations can incorporate freedom of expression and privacy into their ICT sector development projects to better ensure that technology benefits the people.  How can these organizations work with others in the ICT space to design and implement projects in a way that respects human rights?  What lessons can be learned from company due diligence procedures?   Please join us and share your perspective.

The Industry Dialogue will be represented by its former chairs, Milka Pietikainen of Millicom and Patrik Hiselius of TeliaSonera.  GNI Executive Director Judith Lichtenberg will join us and also speak at the main session on Thursday, October 22 at 9:00 entitled All of the Internet for all of the people.  Here is the full schedule.




Industry Dialogue releases resource on 44 countries’ laws on freedom of expression and privacy in telecommunications

By Annette Fergusson


A little over a year ago, Vodafone Group published its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, accompanied by a Legal Annexe which describes some of the most important powers available to government agencies and authorities seeking to access customer communications. Vodafone subsequently updated the Annexe to include information on censorship related powers, and ID members Telenor Group and TeliaSonera have made available information on the legal frameworks in many of their markets.

Now, the Industry Dialogue is pleased to build on this work by publishing reports on five countries – Colombia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Russia – that represent the diversity of its companies’ global footprint.   We are combining this information with the reports that have already been published in one online resource, which we hope will be useful to civil society organisations, academics, investors, and others who study the norms regulating government access to communications and capacity to restrict content.

Looking at the letter of these laws, some of the challenges facing our companies become apparent. Many countries lack a clear and transparent legal framework regarding government restriction of the content of communications and access to communications data. Provisions for adequate, independent oversight of these powers are also often absent. As a condition of operating in certain countries, governments may also require unrestricted direct access into companies’ infrastructure for the purpose of interception of communications and/or access to communications related data, leaving the company without any operational or technical control of its technology.

At the same time, the reports reveal good practices in terms of clarity, oversight, and access to remedy. We took the opportunity to highlight some of these good policy practices during a panel discussion at the 2015 Freedom Online Conference. We also welcome your efforts to highlight more good practices or to compare and analyze these legal frameworks, and for that reason, all of this information is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0). We will do our best as individual companies and as a group to build on this resource and to update it periodically.

In the coming weeks, we will be presenting this resource to experts and stakeholders, starting with a discussion to take place during our quarterly meeting in London on July 1. We invite you to send us your feedback, questions, and opportunities to carry the conversation forward.



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