Ooredoo in Myanmar

Open letter to GSMA: Let’s work together for users at risk

Access advocates for a more rights-respecting telecom sector in a number of ways. We initiate dialogue between users and their local telecom operators, issue guidance based on human rights principles and attend telecom annual general meetings. To maximize our impact globally, we talk directly to the biggest telecoms and their industry partners — and there is no bigger telecom association than the GSMA. We sent the message below to the group’s new Director General in hopes of sparking a meaningful dialogue on how the association can join the fight to protect and respect the rights of users at risk.

Dear Mats Granryd,

We are writing to congratulate you on your appointment as Director General and Member of the GSMA Board. This is an exciting time to lead the GSMA and its nearly 800 mobile operator members. Right now, billions of people around the world enjoy access to mobile networks, and billions more will soon come online for the first time. It’s a crucial moment to build a more secure, neutral, and sustainable infrastructure, as well as rights-respecting policy frameworks.

As you plan your leadership, we wish to direct your attention to several areas of mobile policy development that we see as key to ensuring that the open internet continues to thrive.

First, over the past few years we have tracked a growing number of government-ordered network shutdowns and slow-downs targeted operators and GSMA members. Not only do these shutdowns exact an unnecessary and disproportionate toll on the right to freedom of expression, they also cut off access to emergency services, and to services such as financial or health apps. GSMA members do not benefit when their subscribers lose connectivity due to shutdowns that disrupt the functioning of businesses or startups that depend on the internet. We created the Telco Action Plan to guide telecoms to push back on shutdown requests and similar pressures to infringe user rights. We believe that your organization could speak up to unequivocally oppose these kinds of network shutdowns and help ensure that telecom companies be in a position to push back against unjustified intrusions into the business of connecting users across the world to the Internet.

Relatedly, the GSMA could better participate in and shape the business and human rights discourse. This is not only good for telecom users but also advances the interests and reputation of the global telecom sector and the safety of employees of your member firms across the world.

By adopting the Ruggie Framework, the U.N. Human Rights Council recognized that businesses impact human rights, and have responsibilities to prevent, mitigate, and remedy human rights abuses. Through institutionalizing your engagement with thought leaders in this space, the GSMA will signal to its users at risk, civil society, and policymakers that 1) human rights are a priority in the ICT sector, and 2) tech and telecom companies have significant expertise to contribute to the new frameworks being developed.

Users are increasingly voicing their concerns about privacy, which is always an issue for the ICT sector. The GSMA should guide its members on responding to government surveillance requests with procedures and principles that respect the human right to privacy. A group of the world’s largest international telecoms committed to rights-respecting processes in the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue “Guiding Principles”; the GSMA could promote similar commitments worldwide. We also draw your attention to advertising practices that impact human rights, such as the insertion of tracking headers, the subject of our new report, “The Rise of Mobile Tracking Headers.” We encourage you to compose a white paper on the newly revealed use of mobile tracking headers, and to continue establishing best practices on privacy.

Once you settle into your new position, we would like to schedule a call to discuss our work and opportunities for collaboration. Please let us know when we can connect, at your convenience. We also invite you to the next convening in our RightsCon Summit series, RightsCon Silicon Valley, from March 30 to April 1, 2016. As the premier event on the issue of the open internet, RightsCon will connect you directly with users at risk, human rights defenders, liberation technologists, and civil society across the world, alongside leading ecosystem players like major internet platforms and tech policy makers. Of course, we’re aware that GSMA convenes stakeholders for the Mobile World Congress, and we hope to participate fully in 2016, as a welcome partner in the fight for open, innovative, and secure communications.

I look forward to engaging with you in this important new role.

Best regards,

Brett Solomon

Executive Director