‘We want our cute cats and we want our rights too’


on Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

A crisp fall night turned out to be the perfect setting for the 2nd annual Vancouver Human Rights Lecture, co-sponsored by the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program, The Laurier Institution, the University of British Columbia Continuing Studies and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Speaker Ethan Zuckerman in his lecture “Cute Cats and the Arab Spring: When Social Media Meet Social Change” asked the question ‘if 2011 ends up being the year of revolution, is it possible that social media had something to do with it?’

He questioned the theory that social media had nothing to do with protests and activism in 2011 and the opposing theory that the Internet changes everything – that as soon as you have access to information and to the internet, people will mobilize.

The reality, he stated, is not black and white: social media is not irrelevant, nor is social media responsible for how (or why) people get together and protest; instead social media falls within a complex grey area.

Citing Mohamed Bouazizi and his act of self-immolation as a launch-pad or ‘patient zero’ in the movements that have swept through the Arab world, he noted that social media platforms make it possible for people to create and disseminate information at a low cost.  More importantly, they allow people to contribute to the wider media ecosystem (including traditional media), which can sometimes result in citizens mobilizing beyond a small protest movement to removing a dictatorship from power.

He argued that while the development of encrypted and specialized tools for activists is important, just as effective are the tools that are simple enough for anyone to use. The tools that allow persons to easily share their own content and interests to a wide audience, as in the case of the internet user sharing her pictures of cute cats, becomes an even more potent tool for the person who accidentally stumbles upon activism. That user may be already using the tools, and can now use them to share their concerns and express themselves. These platforms are often difficult for governments to censor.

Ethan challenged the audience to become empowered citizens and netizens of the online world and to call on governments to respect the idea of a networked public sphere where content and information can be shared but also to call on companies to run the private spaces in a manner consistent with freedom of expression and privacy.

Yahoo! recognizes that the Internet is a powerful space for free expression and for this reason is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative comprised of ICT companies, human rights organizations, academics, investors and others. The GNI is a positive and collective step by these stakeholders to work together to challenge censorship and threats to privacy. The group has worked together to establish a code of conduct to guide technology companies in protecting and advancing freedom of expression and privacy across the globe when they encounter laws and policies that interfere with these fundamental human rights.

Over the next year, the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program will continue to explore how people, and more specifically women, are using social and digital media to support positive change in their communities and around the world. Our Change your World summits start in Cairo on January 18 2012, where, together with Yahoo! Maktoob and in partnership with Vital Voices we will focus on how women across the Middle East and North Africa are using technology, the Internet and various social and digital media platforms to create positive change in the world through four areas: leadership in governance and politics, human rights and social justice, journalism and entrepreneurship.  Join us for Change your World: Cairo 2012. Click here for more information.

To listen to the 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture podcast, please click here or view the lecture video here

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Introducing Séverine Arsène, the 2011 Yahoo! International Fellow at Georgetown University


on Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Séverine Arsène is the 2011-2012 Yahoo ! fellow in residence at Georgetown University. Dr. Arsène’s project will explore how different notions of modernity across the globe are contextually based and how these varied representations shape the uses of social media, more specifically, as a tool for online protests.

Séverine Arsène received her Ph.D in political science from Sciences Po Paris. Prior to the Yahoo! fellowship, she was an Assistant lecturer at the University of Lille 3, France in the Department of Information and Communication where she taught courses on information technologies. Arsène  was previously a researcher at Orange Labs (France Telecom R&D) in Paris and curator of the annual seminar of the social sciences department in Beijing.

She also co-organized the first Barcamp Beijing during her tenure with Orange Labs. Her most recent book, to be published in 2011, Internet et politique en Chine (Internet and politics in China) elaborates on the Chinese Internet users’ aspirations for a more “modern” way of life and on how this affects the way they speak out online. Dr. Arsène will continue to develop her research interests of Internet and politics in China and, more generally, media and politics in authoritarian contexts during her fellowship

As Arsène arrives, we bid farewell to Han-Teng Liao, of Taiwan, and thank him for his work exploring the ways that non-English language users in India and China will be represented in the future Internet worlds and providing new insight into the many ways that the fellowship can respond to the challenge of values and free expression in the Internet era. He also produced a case study, draft material for serveral potentional articles, and organized an afternoon seminar to showcase his worl. Han-Teng also brought to Georgetown the Chinese Internet Research Conference, a two-day academic conference that drew 80-100 full time participants.

The fellowship program at Georgetown University was established in 2007, and it supports the education and research activities of an annual Yahoo! Fellow in Residence and tow Junior Yahoo! Fellows. The Yahoo! Fellows come from around the world, from diverse sectors (including corporations, government, academia, and civil society), and are responsible for multi-disciplinary research that explores how diverse international values apply to the development and use of new communications technologies with a focus on Brazil, Russia, India and China. The fellowship is supported by the Yahoo! International Values, Communications, Technology, and Global Internet Fellowship Fund. It supports research on how international values apply to the development and use of new communications technologies.

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Introducing Nicole G. Epps, 2011 BHRP Summer Analyst


on Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The BHRP team is excited to have Nicole G. Epps with us as our 2011 Summer Program Analyst. Having worked in both the public and private sectors, Nicole brings a unique perspective from her experiences as a Teach for America corps member, real estate developer for mixed income housing and most recently working to combat international child trafficking. Please read below to learn more about Nicole in her own words.

Nicole at a U.S. Naval Aviation hangar

I am so excited to join Yahoo!’s Business and Human Rights Program (BHRP) and work with such a dynamic group of people who are excited to be a part of the change they hope to see in the world. Yahoo! and BHRP have distinguished themselves as the preeminent leader within the Internet Communication Technology sector, while simultaneously creating a culture that remains committed to promoting free expression and privacy around the world.

Prior to joining the BHRP team, I was a Teach For America corps member in Atlanta, GA and taught second grade. After Teach for America, I worked for a Real Estate Developer of Mixed Income Housing and created Technology Centers, Early Childhood Centers, Vocational Training and Home Ownership Programs for government assisted residents. After earning my MBA, I worked in Private Investment Management before deciding to follow my passion to change the world and be a voice for the silent, primarily children. Currently, I am a graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS concentrating in International Law and Middle East Studies. I am also spearheading the first quantifiable study on homelessness and the trafficking of domestic U.S minors. All of these experiences have illustrated to me the importance of working only with those organizations whose mission aligns with my code of ethics and belief system of integrity, loyalty and honesty. Yahoo! is that company.

As a native New Yorker, proud Trinidadian- American, former Georgia peach and Navy brat, I feel honored to have the opportunity to work for an organization that values and actively promotes diversity. I look forward to helping BHRP promote free expression, privacy, human rights and technology globally.

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Introducing Jafer Ahmad, 2011 BHRP Summer Analyst


on Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The BHRP is excited to have Jafer Ahmad join us as one of our Summer Analysts. Jafer brings with him a variety of experiences including post-graduate research on law and human rights in the Middle East; living and traveling extensively in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia; and working in policy, the investment management industry, development, and the technology startup world. Please read below to learn more about Jafer in his own words:

Jafer exploring the ancient Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan

I am passionate about the role ICT’s (information and communication technologies) play, and have the potential to play, in addressing complex global challenges. A twelve million-strong protest against the FARC in Colombia organized on Facebook in 2008; the “Arab Spring”; the Khan Academy; Roshan Telecom’s M-Paisa service in Afghanistan (facilitating the mobile phone-based payment of policemen stationed in remote provinces whose cash salaries were previously subject to theft); and Ushahidi’s open source platform for anonymous crowd-sourced information mapping (which has been instrumental in crisis, and other, relief efforts in Kenya, South Africa, Haiti, Washington, D.C., Russia, New Zealand, and Japan), are but a few examples of how ICT’s can be utilized to help facilitate citizen empowerment, scalable and adaptive education, economic efficiency, political stability, development, and disaster relief.

While ICT’s have been used to make the world a better place, their effectiveness as tools to do so is often contingent upon open access, free expression, and user trust in privacy. As such, I was thrilled to learn that Yahoo!, an ICT industry leader with almost a billion users worldwide, has a dedicated program (the BHRP), devoted to incorporating human rights considerations in business operations with the ultimate goal of protecting and promoting open access, free expression and privacy on the Internet. In fact, it is the only ICT company with such a program to date. I was also excited by the approach the BHRP takes in working towards this mission; a cross-functional internal team that incorporates various external stakeholders, all with different resources and perspectives, allows for the ability to troubleshoot and iterate solutions in dealing with restrictions on access, free expression, and privacy around the world. It is for these reasons that I believe Yahoo! is uniquely positioned to lead in changing the status quo for the ICT industry when it comes to products that overlap with human rights issues.

My passion for the use of ICT’s in addressing complex global challenges (and thus my interest in the open access to, and free expression and privacy in the use of, ICT’s) primarily developed out my experience in the Middle East. After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, I embarked on a Fulbright Fellowship researching human rights issues surrounding the application of inheritance law in Jordanian courts. While traveling around the MENA region and living in Jordan, a major technology startup hub of the Middle East, I came to realize just how important technological innovation is for economic development and citizen empowerment, and that I had long since taken my relatively open and free experience of the Internet for granted. After returning to the states in 2008 with a newfound appreciation for ICT’s, I have since been involved in emerging markets investing in the ICT sector; mobile-banking projects to increase financial inclusion among the unbanked; and an international ICT startup focused on enhancing social interaction in the offline world. While studying in Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies MA program (’13), I aim to further explore how to best promote the effective use of ICT’s in tackling pressing global challenges, while navigating human rights issues born out of concerns for user privacy and national security.

Needless to say, I’ve been absolutely ecstatic about the prospect of working with the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program since this spring and I am looking forward to what should be quite an eventful summer.

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Judge the Global Network Initiative by How It Judges Companies


on Friday, April 1st, 2011

Flickr Creative Commons | United Nations Information Service - Geneva

Originally featured by Elisa Massimino on Human Rights First blog on March 31, 2011.  Elisa Massimino is CEO and President of Human Rights First, a leading human rights advocacy organization in the US.  The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Yahoo! Inc.

Recent press stories about the Global Network Initiative (GNI) paint a distorted picture, judging the Initiative’s effectiveness and impact based primarily on the number of companies that have joined the effort to date.  That’s the wrong yardstick.  While the GNI seeks to secure a sector-wide commitment to uphold basic principles of privacy and free expression and to provide companies with framework for decision-making that will deliver on these commitments, the real measure of success (and, ultimately, the key to attracting more companies to join) will be whether corporate members—to date, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!—are making business decisions that uphold their commitments.

Human Rights First joined the GNI because we believe that it has the potential to address the human rights impacts of global business operations. The GNI brought together highly independent companies—each of which had faced challenges in resisting government demands for censorship of content and disclosure of user information—under a single multi-stakeholder initiative with a common goal—to identify ways to resist government demands that limit freedom of expression and privacy and to improve business decision-making to better protect these rights.

The GNI provides member companies with access to expertise and information about how global operations impact free expression and privacy rights, and space for discussion and learning about strategies for protecting them.  For us, as a human rights organization, the effectiveness of the GNI will be demonstrated through independent assessments of member companies’ efforts to adopt and implement policies and procedures to implement the GNI’s guidelines and uphold the principles to which member companies committed themselves at the outset.  Shared learning has value—companies that go it alone in this space are likely to make costly mistakes–but it is independent assessment that distinguishes GNI from a trade association, coalition or public policy forum. Independent assessment will help to ensure that GNI member companies are publicly accountable for their commitments, and that the GNI can demonstrate progress in promoting freedom of expression and privacy in the internet and telecommunications sector.  The first round of assessments have not yet been made — they are tentatively scheduled to begin this summer — and the GNI is still in the process of making key decisions that will determine how thorough and independent those assessments will be.

The GNI is often asked why no additional companies have joined yet.  Some have suggested that the GNI charter requirement that member companies open their human rights compliance system to independent inspection makes some companies nervous. It’s true that GNI member companies have signed up for a rigorous verification mechanism as part of their membership.  But that is because we founding members—companies, NGOs, investors and academics—understood that independent assessment is the key to GNI’s credibility.

Companies outside the GNI can claim that they are working to promote freedom of expression and privacy, and that they’ve adopted policies and procedures along the lines of GNI requirements. Some have made these claims.  And while pledges to uphold free expression and privacy are welcome, without an outside, independent assessment, the public has no way of verifying that these pledges are being implemented consistently, or whether they are effective in addressing threats to freedom of expression and privacy.  This independent assessment is what the GNI is designed to do and on which its success, or failure, should be judged.

Of course membership in the GNI does not guarantee that a company’s policies on Internet freedom will ultimately produce the right result in every case.  Governments intent on violating users’ human rights are innovative and relentless.  But, because of GNI’s system of independent assessment, member companies—and the public—can be assured that company decision-making will be transparent, and assessed against a common and credible standard. That credibility will create pressure from users on other companies to join the GNI, and will demonstrate the value of the initiative to skeptics in the private sector.  Our ultimate goal is a realistic one:  not perfection, but demonstrated, reasonable steps– independently verified and assessed–to anticipate, prepare for, and resist pressure from governments to infringe on human rights.  At the end of the day, if those criteria are met, the GNI should be judged a success.

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Eradicating a Government Responsibly


on Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Bassem Bouguerra is a Software Architect at Yahoo! and online activist for human rights in Tunisia and the Arab world.  The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of Yahoo! Inc. 

Sam Bouguerra

History books are packed with accounts of revolutions dethroning rulers and governments that alienated themselves from their people. Each uprising was motivated by a variety of religious, social, economical and political drives. Some of them were engraved in the human memory as achievements, others as disappointments. Nonetheless, they all had something in common: a story to tell and lesson to teach. So what lesson can we learn from the Tunisian revolution? 

You can exterminate a whole government with all its institutions abruptly and responsibly even in countries with no real political opposition.  

I realize how unfounded, logically, this statement can be. How can you annihilate the foundation of structure in a modern society and claim responsibility? Furthermore, how can a major political transformation take place in a scene lacking political inspiration? 

To help answer these questions, let’s quickly examine the Tunisian socio-political scene prior to the dawn of the revolution. The ousted president wanted to be perceived by his people as omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.  Censorship was atrocious and popular websites such as Flickr and YouTube didn’t make it through the tight filters. Every nomination starting from ministers all the way down to school directors would have to be first blessed by the president and his cohorts. A president with a corrupt agenda had wedged a huge gap between the rich and the working class. 

In the midst of this, the Tunisian youth escaped the trenchant reality by surfing the Internet and popularizing artists such as Amel Methlouthi who inspired a whole generation of political activists. This young educated group ended up forming an influential decentralized political ecosystem as its core but apolitical on the surface, mainly to avoid confrontation with the police. 

Bloggers created a new trusted source of information for Tunisians and used that trust to fuel devotion and perseverance. Popular virtual mass movements started to see the light. Some of these movements transcended to real life such as the popular “Ammar Day” that denounced internet censorship; others were conceived and expired on the Internet. 

Bloggers from different religious and political backgrounds experienced an unprecedented unity: as a Tunisian blogger, one knew that others would rally to support if ever arrested.  This solidarity was seen in the “I am Fatma” solidarity movement that helped to liberate the Tunisian blogger Fatma Arabicca from her unlawful detention. 

Initiatives like these and many others emboldened bloggers and online activists and lent a feeling of “I can”.  In addition, they helped in recruiting a huge mass of Tunisians to the point where over 20% of the Tunisian population created a Facebook account and joined virtual political groups and assemblies to break a decades-long taboo reigning over Tunisians. 

Information about corruption and police brutality started to circulate in a much broader scale and a sense of awakening hit the silent majority. 

Ben Ali’s regime alienated itself from the revolting masses and an unexpected element filled the leadership void. Most of the new leadership emerged from the online community and organized initiatives such as financial and food donations, street cleaning, and neighborhood watches to protect the communities from looters and troublemakers. 

Photos on the Internet began to appear, showing food vendors assisting people in need and young people cleaning up the aftermath from the street protests. Images of these responsible citizens inspired other Tunisians to do the same in concurrence with the ‘extermination’ of the corrupt regime. 

Tunisians have shown the world a new way of eradicating a dictatorship. And if I would have to describe it in 4 words I would use: spontaneous, responsible, peaceful and deadly. 

Bassem Bouguerra can be followed on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/tunisien).

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Thoughts on Flickr and human rights

By Ebele Okobi | Global Head, Yahoo! BHRP

on Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Flickr Creative Commons | YasminMoll

As director of the Business & Human Rights Program at Yahoo!, I spend a great deal of time thinking and learning about how people use social media to further human rights aims, and also all of the ways that companies can try to ensure that their platforms and processes respect that expression.

Lately, with all that we are learning about the role of social media in uprisings around the world, companies are facing even more difficult questions. Our recent experience with Flickr is an excellent case study.

A well-known Egyptian activist, Mr. El Hamalawy, used his Flickr account to post photographs of people identified as members of Egypt’s security force. In the caption to the set of images, the activist explicitly stated that the photographs were not his, and that the people in the images should be exposed, shamed, and made to answer for their crimes. The Flickr community manager received more than one report from the Flickr community through the report abuse function, took down the photographs and sent Mr. El Hamalawy a notice that the images were taken down because they violated Flickr community rules.

Flickr is and has always been quite clear about users only being allowed to post their own photographs:

From Flickr’s Community Guidelines:

Don’t upload anything that isn’t yours.

This includes other people’s photos, video, and/or stuff you’ve copied or collected from around the Internet. Accounts that consist primarily of such collections may be deleted at any time.

This rule applies regardless of content, or of the purpose of the post. The reasoning for this is not only about copyright—and in this case, it’s not a copyright issue.  It’s an issue of community:  Flickr is meant to be a place where photographers, amateur and professional, can share their own work. Flickr, as a community, does not want to be a photo-hosting site, and anyone signing up for Flickr agrees to those rules, which apply whether one is a proud grandmother or a human rights activist.

This is a perfect example of the difficulty that human rights activists and companies have when activists use tools and products that were not initially created for human rights aims; activists are still subject to the community rules. In this case, following the rules would not endanger the user, whether or not he or she is a human rights activist. The rule simply requires human rights activists to use Flickr to post photographs that they have taken–they can use photo-hosting sites or create their own website to post images that are explicitly not their own work.

I have heard from some activists who believe that Flickr applies the rule unevenly; they have pointed out other photographs, including others from Mr. El Hamalawy’s account, that also appear to be photographs that were not taken by Mr. El Hamalawy. Here’s the thing: with millions and millions of photographs and Flickr accounts, Flickr does not have the ability to proactively moderate for photographs that were not taken by Flickr users. Flickr reactively responds to reports from Flickr community members.

Others have asked why Flickr would not make an exception to the rule for activists. It’s a great question, and one that I think about a great deal.  It raises a number of questions for me, and I’d like to pose them to you:

Who is an activist?  Who gets to decide? Are activists, for example, only people who hold views and advocate for the kinds of issues with which I agree? Should the designation be limited to registered human rights organizations? What about organizations in countries where registration as a human rights organization is illegal or dangerous? Would identified activists then be exempt from all of the rules? Or would they get to select which rules apply? Or should the company? What kind of mechanisms could companies set up to make these kinds of decisions?

What about the stated purpose of a community or semi-public space? Flickr was created specifically to allow photographers to share their work. Many Flickr users believe that the community of passionate and invested people make Flickr unique. They want to preserve Flickr’s character and to have a space where members, regardless of purpose, respect the rules, and the unity of purpose.  Many Flickr members use Flickr to highlight human rights issues while taking care to follow community guidelines. If a space is created to serve a particular community, is it fair to the community for one group to be allowed to break those rules? Does a company have the responsibility to change the purpose of a product or platform because a segment of users demand it, regardless of whether that demand is made by a majority or a minority of members? These questions are fundamental to defining exactly what Flickr is – and what it can or should be in the future.

This afternoon, I was on a panel at SXSW, moderated by Danny O’Brien of the Committee to Protect Journalists.  A number of participants expressed outrage about Flickr’s decision. One vowed to never use Yahoo!’s services again, and said that he believed that any Yahoo! product should not be used by human rights activists. I disagree, but I think it’s a point of view that, as a company, we have to be willing to hear. I am a passionate supporter of free expression as a fundamental human right, and I believe strongly in the idea that technology and social media provide incredible opportunities to create social change. I also know that millions of people use Yahoo! products, including Flickr, to create their version of the change they wish to see in the world.  That’s a tremendous privilege, and a huge responsibility.

I look forward to hearing what you think.

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Call for Applications: Yahoo! Georgetown Fellowship


on Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Flickr Creative Commons | Kevin Harber

Yahoo! Inc established  the Yahoo! International Values, Communications, Technology, and Global Internet Fellowship Fund at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in 2007.  The program supports the education and research activities of an annual Yahoo! Fellow in Residence.  The Yahoo! Fellows come from around the world, from diverse sectors (including corporations, government, academia, and civil society), and are responsible for multi-disciplinary research that explores how diverse international values apply to the development and use of new communications technologies, with a focus on emerging markets. 

The Yahoo! Fellow pursues activities that explore new communications technologies in national and global contexts.  The most recent Fellow, Han Teng-Liao is exploring the geolinguistic and geocultural influences on Internet development in China and India (information on earlier Yahoo! Fellows is available at http://www.yhumanrightsblog.com/blog/our-initiatives/academic-fellowships/). 

Georgetown University invites applicants from various backgrounds (including scholars, journalists and authors, government officials, business executives, civic actors, and entrepreneurs).  Applicants are advised to submit materials by April 1, 2011. 

Yahoo! Inc is not involved in the Fellowship review and selection process; please have interested persons apply directly to Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.  Further information can also be found herehttp://isd.georgetown.edu/programs/yahoofellow/

Flickr Creative Commons | ehpien

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Yahoo! Hosts Global Network Initiative in Washington, DC

By Kee

on Monday, February 21st, 2011

Susan Morgan, GNI Executive Director

One day after a strong January snowstorm pummeled Washington D.C., the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program welcomed the Global Network Initiative’s (GNI) new Independent Chair, Jermyn Brooks, and Executive Director, Susan Morgan with a reception at Yahoo!’s Washington, D.C. office.  The sudden wintry changes outside aptly illustrated the ever-shifting global landscape that Information & Communications Technology (ICT) companies face today.

With representatives from a number of companies, academic institutions, investor groups, U.S. government agencies, and NGOs attending, the topics of conversation flowed from Internet freedom to the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt.  A highlight from this lively gathering included brief remarks from both Susan Morgan and Jermyn Brooks, who infused their passion for human rights with the vision of strengthening partnerships within the ICT sector.

The engaging discussions around the Yahoo! office that evening illustrated the strength of an emerging organization like GNI, and the reception highlighted the power of bringing stakeholders from various backgrounds and sectors to one table to create a dialogue.  On a more personal note, this intimate gathering supported the Hollywood-inspired notion that important decisions may be presented in a boardroom but are often formed in the hallways, starting from ideas jotted onto a cocktail napkin or coaster.

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Secretary Clinton champions Internet freedom


on Monday, February 21st, 2011

Choosing to speak at George Washington University, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the role of the Internet as the ”world’s town square” in light of the recent events in Egypt and surrounding countries.

Flickr Creative Commons | NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Secretary Clinton’s landmark speech from last year called for global protection of the freedom to connect combining the freedoms of expression, assembly and association online.  In her recent remarks, Clinton notes that there is “no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression” which makes a commitment to principles and dialogue even more compelling.

Clinton’s proposal for a serious discussion about the guiding principles and relevant rules and behaviors mirrors the ongoing efforts of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) companies like Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google through the Global Network Initiative (GNI).  GNI responded to Secretary Clinton’s speech the next day, welcoming the collaborative approach among civil society groups, governments, and ICT companies.

See here for a full transcript & video of Secretary Clinton’s remarks.

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