TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Tech Firms, Others Trying to Form Web Conduct Code

Tech Firms, Others Trying to Form Web Conduct Code

Michelle Nichols, Reuters (
Fri, 19 Jan 2007 16:38:26 -0600

By Michelle Nichols

Technology companies Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Vodafone are in
talks with human rights and press freedom groups to draw up an
Internet code of conduct to protect free speech and privacy of Web

The parties said in a statement on Friday they aim to produce a code
by the end of this year that would counter such trends as the
increased jailing of Internet journalists, monitoring of legitimate
online activity, and censorship.

Talks are being led by the Washington-based Center for Democracy and
Technology and San Francisco's non-profit Business for Social
Responsibility. They are trying to craft a code to hold companies
accountable if they cooperate with governments to suppress free speech
or violate human rights.

"Technology companies have played a vital role building the economy
and providing tools important for democratic reform in developing
countries," said Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for
Democracy and Technology.

"But some governments have found ways to turn technology against their
citizens -- monitoring legitimate online activities and censoring
democratic material," Harris said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the spotlight had been
put on Internet companies after arrests in China of Internet writers
such as Shi Tao, who was jailed in 2005 for 10 years for leaking state
secrets abroad.

Rights groups have accused Yahoo of helping China trace Shi Tao's
e-mail exchanges with a New York-based news Web site.

"Governments around the world are jailing Internet journalists at a
growing pace, with 49 bloggers, online editors, and Web-based
reporters behind bars at the end of 2006," said CPJ Executive Director
Joel Simon.

"Protecting the rights of these journalists to express ideas and
exchange information without fear of reprisal is one of the highest
priorities for the press freedom community today," he said in a

A CPJ census found that the number of journalists jailed worldwide hit
a record last year with 134 in jail on December 1, more than one-third
of whom were Internet bloggers and online reporters.

In addition to Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and Vodafone are among the
companies involved in the talks.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.

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