Access Now sends digital rights demands to 10 tech and telco chairs

UPDATE, 6/24/2016:

We’ve sent letters to the CEOs of all major U.S. internet firms, as well as AT&T. With this second round of letters, all companies in the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index have now been invited to respond to the results. We tailored our recommendations to each company, asking them to ensure they encrypt wherever possible, report wherever meaningful, and provide remedy whenever necessary. Find the letters here:

Yahoo: https://www.accessnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LettertoYahoo.pdf

Google: https://www.accessnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LettertoGoogle.pdf

Our partners at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, who highlighted our first round of letters here, expect all these companies to respond within a few days.

While the internet was in part developed with public funding, the web and mobile networks are largely a privately owned and operated environment. Companies mediate our internet access, and therefore our exercise of human rights online, yet in many cases, they lack the transparency and accountability we expect from governments or other actors that impact these rights.

To begin to right this balance, a number of civil society groups are showing tech and telecom companies how they can improve their disclosures about the policy and practices they use to safeguard digital rights. Access Now is partnering with Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) and the Business and Human Rights Research Centre (BHRRC) to give companies targeted advice that can help bring their practices in line with international human rights standards.  

Today, Access Now sent letters to 10 companies whose practices were evaluated by RDR: América Móvil, Axiata, Bharti Airtel, Etisalat, Kakao, Mail.Ru, MTN, Orange, Tencent, and Vodafone (PDF files). The letters explain that fundamental rights are under attack — online as well as offline — and that companies must play a role in protecting them.

For each company, we sent a letter to the Chair of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, to inform those at the highest level in these corporations how to make necessary and important changes to their practices to respect human rights. We specified objectives that are well within reach for each company — “low-hanging fruit” such as publishing a policy specifically to oppose internet shutdowns — and provided other best practice recommendations. We also asked the companies for a public response and follow-on meetings to discuss implementation.

The RDR Corporate Accountability Index

In November 2015, RDR published its Corporate Accountability Index, which gives the public a digital rights evaluation of 16 of the world’s most powerful internet and telecommunications companies, examining their disclosed commitments, policies, and practices. The project looks at a number of performance indicators to show how these companies can improve their disclosures on issues that impact privacy and free expression in the digital age.

Examples of these indicators: a company’s specific commitments to respect privacy and freedom of expression, and their mechanisms to implement them; whether and how a company provides remedies for people whose rights have been infringed; whether a company makes available easy-to-understand terms of service; what a company’s policies are with regard to collecting, retaining, or sharing personal information; and whether the company has a network discrimination policy, to name just a few.  

This initial evaluation shows what many of us already know: even the highest ranking companies have considerable room to improve when it comes to protecting their customers’ fundamental rights. The top-ranked company, Google, scored only 65 out of 100.

Of course, for each firm, and in particular jurisdictions, legal restraints can sometimes limit disclosures. The laws constraining disclosures should be updated, and applied in a way that complies with international human rights and the rule of law. However, our  recommendations all fall within the respective legal boundaries that regulate the specific company we are contacting.  

Our letters to the companies

Below are links to the letters we sent. In each letter, we write:

Respecting human rights in an accountable and transparent manner is good for business. Your company’s health and wealth depend on the trust of your customers. Investors require accurate and meaningful data on your firm’s performance — financial and otherwise — to show why they should continue to commit to your growth. Policymakers seeking to protect their constituents’ interests look to you for clear statements and policies to verify that you are complying with laws and norms.

This first release of results from the Corporate Accountability Index, the methodology for which was developed through years of research and consultation with a diverse range of stakeholders, shows why it is urgent that the entire sector must engage with the range of stakeholders and groups who advocate for the rights of people affected by your business.

See: América Móvil, Axiata, Bharti Airtel, Etisalat, Kakao, Mail.Ru, MTN, Orange, Tencent, and Vodafone.

How you can help

We’re asking these companies for a public response, and you may be able to help us encourage them to do just that. If you are a customer of one of the companies, we invite you to stay tuned for news about how these companies respond to our letters by following us on Twitter, where we’ll also be taking action.

If you’d like additional details on how to help keep the pressure on these companies to respect human rights, please feel free to contact contact Peter Micek at peter @ accessnow.org

You may also be interested in Access Now’s Transparency Reporting Index, where we track corporate transparency reports.  

Here’s RDR’s post on this campaign.