RealTime IT News

Tech Giants Ready Policy for Repressive Regimes

Top Web companies have reached a tentative agreement with human-rights organizations and other groups on a voluntary code of conduct governing Internet operations in countries where Internet freedom is curtailed.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, praised Microsoft, Yahoo and Google for the letters each submitted saying that they have agreed in principle on the global code of conduct to promote human rights and Internet freedom.

"This code of conduct would be one important step toward our shared goals of promoting freedom of expression and protecting the privacy of Internet users around the world," Durbin said in a statement.

In May, Durbin chaired a hearing on global Internet freedom where representatives from the three tech companies described their operations in repressive regimes. The recent wave of letters came in response to Durbin's request last month that the companies provide him with a status update.

The latest signs of progress on crafting an Internet policy to address the long-simmering issue of companies operating in repressive nations comes as the world's spotlight focuses on China, where the Olympic Games begin Friday in Beijing.

Many reporters have already complained that certain sites have been blocked. A minor scandal broke out last week when the top press official for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggested in an interview that the group had struck a deal with China to permit Internet restrictions, after promising for years that accredited media would have full access.

Critics pounced on the organization for what appeared to be a tacit endorsement of censorship, and the IOC issued a statement yesterday saying the official's comments had been misunderstood and declaring, "There has been no deal whatsoever to accept 'restrictions.'"

Promoting Internet freedom and privacy

In their letters, the tech companies described three pillars of the code of conduct they expect to be finalized by the coalition. Their aim is to create a unified front of Internet, communications and technology (ICT) stakeholders to promote Internet freedom and privacy around the world.

Next page: Initiative on Freedom of Expression and Privacy