Published October 28, 2008 11:57 AM

Internet companies embrace human rights guidelines

NEW YORK (AP) -- Leading Internet companies, long criticized by human rights groups for their business dealings in China, are agreeing to new guidelines that seek to limit what data they should share with authorities worldwide and when they should do so.

The guidelines, to be announced Tuesday, call for Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to try to reduce the scope of government requests that appear to conflict with free speech and other human rights principles. They also require participating companies to seek requests in writing, along with the names and titles of the authorizing officer.


The Global Network Initiative guidelines were drawn up by the Internet companies along with human rights organizations, investors and academics.

But ultimately, the documents are less about "what happens when you get a knock on the door than what are you doing before then," said Leslie Harris, chief executive of the Center for Democracy and Technology, one of the main groups behind the guidelines.

Harris said the companies are agreeing to consider human rights issues ahead of time as they decide which countries to operate in and what services to offer. The guidelines also call for companies to train employees and develop mechanisms to resolve conflicts.

It was not immediately clear, however, what practices, if any, will change, as the guidelines do not ban any specific conduct, and many of the key points are open to interpretation or are left to individual companies to implement.

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