How TeliaSonera is living up to its commitment to freedom of expression

by Patrik Hiselius (TeliaSonera), Chair of the Industry Dialogue, March – September 2013

TeliaSonera’s hands-on operational processes for assessments and escalation of governments’ requests present a good example of how to embed essential parts of the Industry Dialogue (ID) Guiding Principles into a telecommunications company’s everyday business operations.

Based on the UN Guiding Principles, the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue Guiding Principles are a good tool for telecommunications companies on how to respect freedom of expression and privacy.

According to ID Principle (1) the telco shall ‘create and/or maintain relevant policies, . . . outlining commitment to prevent, assess, and mitigate to the best of their ability the risks to freedom of expression and privacy associated with designing, selling, and operating telecommunications technology and telecommunications services’. TeliaSonera has materialized this commitment in the ‘TeliaSonera Group Policy on Freedom of Expression in Telecommunications’ adopted by the TeliaSonera Board in December 2013. In addition, according to ID Principle (3) the telco should ‘create and/or maintain operational processes and routines to evaluate and handle government requests that may have an impact on freedom of expression and privacy . . .’.

TeliaSonera’s CEO has decided on an internal Group Instruction which defines our ‘point-of-challenge’ when receiving a request or demand with potentially serious impacts on freedom of expression in telecommunications, i.e. the aim and commitment to seek practical means to push back on requests to the detriment of freedom of expression. The instruction defines how such requests or demands shall be assessed and escalated. The following five assessments shall thus be made when escalating the request or demand within the TeliaSonera Group:

  • Is the request or demand legal?
  • Could the request or demand potentially have serious impacts on freedom of expression in telecommunications?
  • How can the request or demand be interpreted as narrowly as possible?
  • What is the impact on our business of compliance with the request?  What is the impact of challenging it?
  • Could our chosen course of action entail any risks to the safety and liberty of company personnel?

A strict escalation procedure for decision-making has been put in place to follow the policy. The aim is that formal decisions on the extent of compliance or refusal to comply with problematic requests or demands are not made at the local company level, but rather at the Group level by senior management.

Respecting freedom of expression and privacy is not about just following the law. It means adopting a ‘point-of-challenge’.

More information on TeliaSonera’s work is available here

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Lisl Brunner

Lisl Brunner is the Facilitator for the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue. Prior to this role, Lisl spent five years as a staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and holds a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary.

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