San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today withdrew from the Global Network Initiative (GNI), citing a fundamental breakdown in confidence that the group's corporate members are able to speak freely about their own internal privacy and security systems in the wake of the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance revelations.
EFF has been a civil society member of the multi-stakeholder human rights group since GNI was founded in 2008 to advance freedom of expression and privacy in the global information and communication technologies sector. While much has been accomplished in these five years, EFF can no longer sign its name on joint statements knowing now that GNI's corporate members have been blocked from sharing crucial information about how the US government has meddled with these companies' security practices through programs such as PRISM and BULLRUN.
"We know that many within the industry do not like or approve of such government interference, and GNI has, in statements, made it clear that member companies want permission from the US government to engage in greater transparency," EFF's International Director Danny O'Brien and Director for International Freedom of Expression Jillian C. York write in a letter to GNI leadership. "However, until serious reforms of the US surveillance programs are in place, we no longer feel comfortable participating in the GNI process when we are not privy to the serious compromises GNI corporate members may be forced to make. Nor do we currently believe that audits of corporate practice, no matter how independent, will uncover the insecurities produced by the US government's—and potentially other governments'—behavior when operating clandestinely in the name of national security."
EFF's involvement with GNI included helping to define its founding principles over two years of negotiations; coordinating opposition to the United Kingdom's Communications Data Bill in 2011; releasing a paper addressing free-speech issues surrounding account deactivation and content removal; and collaborating with fellow members in internal international technical and policy analysis. However, EFF can no longer stand behind the credibility of what had been one of GNI's most significant achievements—third-party privacy and freedom of expression assessments of service providers, including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
Moving forward, EFF plans to continue to provide guidance to the GNI and engage companies directly, but as an external organization. EFF supports the other organizations and individuals that continue to work within the GNI for the free speech and privacy rights of users worldwide.
"Although EFF is taking a step back, GNI can still serve an important role as a collaborative project between human rights groups, companies, investors and academics," York said. "If the United States government truly supports international 'Internet freedom,' it would recognize the damage its policies are doing to weaken such efforts and the world's confidence in American companies."
For the text of the letter:
Director for International Freedom of Expression
Electronic Frontier Foundation