New BSR Report Helps Companies Protect Human Rights in the Digital Age

By Bsr, PRNE
Sunday, February 13, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, February 14, 2011 - BSR ( today published "Protecting Human Rights in the
Digital Age,"
a new report describing the evolving freedom of expression and privacy
risks faced by information and communications technology (ICT) companies and
how these risks can be more effectively mitigated by the industry.

"Today's digital technologies provide huge opportunities for free
expression, but the increasingly pervasive interaction between ICT and
society also brings a wide range of new and unpredictable human rights risks
and ethical dilemmas for companies in the ICT industry," said Dunstan Allison
(, the report's
author and BSR's managing director, ICT practice. "Whether it is the recent
shutdown of entire mobile networks, the removal of user generated content, or
demands that access be granted to messages sent over mobile devices, it is
clearer today than ever before that companies across the whole ICT industry
need to undertake human rights due diligence."

A key theme in the report is the complex relationship between human
rights, ICT companies, law enforcement agencies, and national security
concerns. There are legitimate reasons why governments, law enforcement
agencies, and companies may restrict the free flow of information (such as
removing images of child exploitation) or allow access to personal
information (such as tackling violent crime). However, at the same time,
there is always the risk that governments and law enforcement agencies will
make demands of the private sector to undertake activities that infringe on
the human rights of privacy or freedom of expression.

There are a number of different points across the ICT value chain in
which governments can interact with private sector companies, sometimes at
the level of content or personal information, and sometimes at the product or
service functionality level. It is at these intersections between governments
and ICT companies that the need to respect, protect, and advance human rights
is most significant. The main body of the report sets out these risk drivers
across eight segments of the ICT industry:

    1) Telecommunications Services - such as risks arising from law
       enforcement investigations
    2) Cell Phones and Mobile Devices - such as risks arising from
       location-based services (mapping, advertising etc)
    3) Internet Services - such as demands to remove, block, or filter
       content, or deactivate user accounts
    4) Enterprise Software, Data Storage, and IT Services - such as
       risks arising from providing services to high-risk customers
    5) Semiconductors and Chips - such as risks arising from
       configuring hardware to allow remote access
    6) Network Equipment - such as risks arising from product
       functionality designed to restrict content
    7) Consumer Electronics - such as pressure to pre-install certain
       types of software to restrict access to content or allow for
    8) Security Software - such as pressure to offer simpler means of
       unscrambling encrypted information

"The report concludes that risks to the human rights of freedom of
expression and privacy are relevant to the full ICT value chain. What's
needed now is a concerted effort by the ICT industry and its various
stakeholders-especially governments, human rights groups, and academics-to
explore how freedom of expression and privacy can be most effectively
protected in the context of legitimate law enforcement and national security
activities," said Hope, who is also co-author of Big Business, Big
Responsibilities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). "Individual companies can inform
this dialogue by undertaking human rights due diligence across their own
products, services, technologies and operations."

The report was commissioned by the Global Network Initiative.

About BSR

A leader in corporate responsibility since 1992, BSR works with its
global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable
business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and
cross-sector collaboration. With offices in Asia, Europe, and North America,
BSR uses its expertise in the environment, human rights, economic
development, and governance and accountability to guide global companies
toward creating a just and sustainable world. Visit for
more information.

About the Global Network Initiative

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is a multi-stakeholder group of
companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press
freedom groups), investors and academics dedicated to protecting and
advancing freedom of expression and privacy in the information and
communications technology (ICT) sector. To learn more, visit

Naomi Mandelstein, Communications Manager, BSR, +1-415-984-3240, emandelstein at

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