Blog: The Global Network Initiative forum

Millicom's lead specialists regularly report on important new activities within their own areas of expertise. Here, Milka Pietikainen, as VP Corporate Responsibility, explains Millicom’s decision to join the Global Network Initiative (GNI) forum on freedom of expression as one of seven new observers.

February 2016: This month, Millicom joins a unique multistakeholder forum hosted by the Global Network Initiative* for the promotion and advancement of freedom of expression and privacy around the world.

We recognised early on the importance of collaborating with other telecommunications companies to tackle the mounting pressure we face by governments to act in ways that may impact these fundamental human rights.

In 2013, we were at the table when the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy (ID) was set up. Joining the GNI extends this sharing considerably: it allows us to fully participate in what we consider to be a critical debate with more than 50 organisations, human rights experts, investors, academics and internet companies.

As one of seven companies of the ID to have been granted official observer status until March 2017, I believe as well that we will bring an important voice to the table: we alone among the seven focus exclusively on frontier and emerging markets.

We look forward to openly sharing our experiences on the ground and getting feedback on how we can be better.

So for the next 12 months, myself and my colleagues will be actively engaged in the GNI’s committee and policy work, the sharing of best practices on conducting human rights due diligence, and working together on GNI implementation guidelines that will be expanded to address a wider range of ICT sector companies.

Our membership will allow us to draw from a far broader well of experience and to evaluate what we learn from the GNI within the framework of our own operations.

As with all providers of a communications service, we deal on a daily basis with law enforcement requests, content restrictions, demands and national security requirements in our markets as we work to improve access to the internet and introduce the digital lifestyle for millions of customers. 

Many countries are reviewing their surveillance frameworks. These are hugely complex issues that no one company or sector can tackle alone. We have a responsibility to respect the privacy and free expression of our customers, which at times can be made very difficult in the face of demands that are contrary to these rights.

Together with other stakeholders in the GNI, my hope is that we are able to reach out to governments and other influential actors with more strength.

When I met last year with fellow speakers from the ICT industry as well as the GNI at the Stockholm Internet Forum,
we discussed ways to tackle this and the mitigation strategies that could be incorporated into ICT sector related financing worldwide.

We advocate making sure that domestic legal frameworks around freedom of expression and privacy were consistent
with international standards especially in terms of reducing the need for surveillance and national security provisions to that which was strictly necessary, and that training and technical capacity-building was in place to support the rule of law.

The World Bank’s Social and Environmental Framework has not incorporated any similar requirements and we remain
critical of the absence of such safeguards.

I very much hope that in our first year as observers, and prior to full membership in March 2017, Millicom will have taken a lead, alongside current member companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Linkedin, in advocating for clear laws and processes around government powers on surveillance. 

While it is important to have different stakeholder groups present in GNI, it is equally important to have the entire ICT ecosystem represented. Each player, from equipment vendors to operators to Over The Top services, affects these rights in a different way.