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Tech initiative aims to protect privacy, free speech online

A global initiative launched by companies including Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft aims to protect privacy and freedom of speech on the Internet.

Companies including Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft on Tuesday joined with human rights groups to launch an initiative aimed at protecting free expression and privacy on the Internet on a global scale.

The Global Network Initiative will provide guidelines for communications technology companies to follow in response to laws in various countries that may interfere with an Internet user's privacy or freedom of expression. Members of the initiative have agreed to ensure that their activities and business operations reflect the principles it aims to protect.

"These principles provide a valuable road map for companies like Yahoo operating in markets where freedom of expression and privacy are unfairly restricted," said Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang. "Through the collective efforts of industry, advocates, and government we will continue to see technology and the Internet as a way to improve people's lives."

Internet companies have come under fire for their operations abroad. Politicians roundly criticized Yahoo for its role in the imprisonment of Chinese dissident journalists. Lawmakers have also assailed Google for its China policies.

The new initiative is supported by human rights groups including Human Rights First, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights in China. The process of creating the initiative was facilitated by the Center for Democracy and Technology and Business for Social Responsibility.

The initiative's Web site, www.globalnetworkinitiative.org, will go live on Wednesday.