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Facebook joins Internet freedom group

UPDATE from PEN American Center: PEN joins all-star coalition to protect digital freedoms (8 October 2013)

Facebook has become the first official observer at the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a non-government organisation dedicated to promoting Internet freedom and privacy rights, GNI announced last week.

GNI - which counts Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! as founding members - was created in 2008 to help global Internet companies deal with government requests affecting free speech and privacy. IFEX members the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship belong to the initiative.

GNI works with independent assessors to evaluate how companies are handling challenges they face.

According to "Politico", Facebook has resisted pressure from lawmakers to join in the past, and other than the initial members, technology firms have been slow to embrace the organisation.

"The resistance is, in part, due to concern that the organisation is too focused on corporate assessments, something large companies are more apt to do than smaller ones. Critics believe GNI should be looking more at government practices around the world that constrain the Internet," said "Politico".

"Others argue that it is the role of governments to take stands on human rights not private companies," the U.S. political paper added.

Facebook's 12-month observer status means it will participate in GNI sessions but doesn't have to commit to the GNI principles, or submit to an independent assessment. After 12 months, the firm will either have to decide to join or leave GNI.

"If they walk away at the end of 12 months, it will be apparent to people they are walking away from accountability," Arvind Ganesan, a GNI board member from Human Rights Watch, told "Politico".

Meg Roggensack of Human Rights First, another GNI member, said that "because of its size and scope, Facebook is a leader [in] privacy. It's important that they be in the tent not outside of it. This doesn't put them in the tent, but it's an important step and underlines our point that companies can't go it alone."

Facebook vice president for global public policy Marne Levine said the company wants to work with GNI and its members "to promote a free and open Internet."

"Building a better understanding of the value of the open Internet, and its direct impact on job creation, education, and good governance, is critical, and precisely where the work of GNI can be useful," Levine said.

The news comes as Facebook is preparing for its initial public offering, in which the company is projected to raise US$10 billion. In order to grow, Facebook may be interested in entering China, which could present some human rights issues, says "Politico".

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