Thursday, November 03, 2005

Corporate Reponsibility and Freedom of Expression

Reporters Without Borders is holding a press conference in New York on November 7th. I was graciously invited to attend, but am unable.

Here is a snippet of what will be covered:

"Following Reporters Without Borders’ lead, 25 North American, European, and Australian investment funds and other organizations, who collectively represent over 21 billion dollars under management, have endorsed a joint statement in which they affirm their commitment to freedom of expression on the Internet, and in which they agree, among other things, to monitor business practices being implemented in repressive countries by Internet-sector companies."

The full article can be read here.

This is, in my opinion, a step toward an actual solution.

Solving the Problem

The collision of technology and culture has resulted in an unanticipated dilemma. Multi-national internet corporations are finding themselves faced with puzzling decisions that force them to choose between their primary goal of growing their business, and the goal expected of them by the free world: the preservation of the freedom of speech.

Recent events have transpired in China that show how these multi-national internet corporations are ill-equipped to play the role of legal arbitor and international diplomat. Hypothetically, Yahoo! may be given a court order from one country to reveal the identity of an internet user who is molesting children. On the same day Yahoo! might be given a court order from another country to reveal the identity of a poet who is disliked by a high-ranking official.

How is Yahoo! equipped to know the validity of one court-order, and the potential abuses that would arise from the other? They clearly are not. But by doing business with China, they have placed themselves in this precarious place. So has Google and MSN.

If this coalition of organizations were also willing to set up a group of qualified legal reviewers to go over these court orders, as a free and voluntary service to internet providers faced with similar circumstances, we might actually solve this issue.

I propose that all internet providers jointly agree to voluntarily submit court orders such as those used to divulge Shi Tao's identity to this neutral group. This body of voluntary specialists could review each case, and make a recommendation for the internet companies to follow. If such a procedure were put in place, Yahoo! could merely take the group's recommendations. This would do less damage to the relationship between Yahoo! and any host country, and also allow for the preservation of the basic human right of free speech without obstructing justice in potentially valid requests for identity.

Outside of this neutral 3rd party, Yahoo! is still responsible for making these decisions themselves, and they will likely opt for profits over human rights.


Blogger Dan Raphael said...

Don't trust these corporations, who have the conscience of stockbroker. They will likely come out with some sort of decorative panel or group, who will either never make recommendations or will make recommendations that are ignored.

Blood money is the staple of international finance. That isn't going too change until we--the people--change the terrain of globalized commerce.

7:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home