The Council has been involved in the telecom industry ever since its inception in 2007. Telecom operators must be encouraged to do business in countries under dictatorial rule as an incentive to democratic development. Meanwhile, they need to manage the risks associated with potential violations of privacy and freedom of expression in a socially responsible manner.
Corruption, particularly in connection with the sale of network licences, is very common in many countries . Various telecom operators often face similar challenges. With that in mind, the Council believes that the operators should collaborate to articulate joint principles for managing the risks they encounter.
Preventive dialogues with telecom operators
The Council on Ethics analysed nine telecom operators in 2013 on the basis of their efforts in the areas of anti-corruption, human rights, freedom of expression and privacy. The purpose was to bring strengths and vulnerabilities to light as reflected in external policies, sustainability reports and other information intended for the general public.
The Council concluded that the operators need to look more closely at the ways that they influence the level of human rights in a country. Policies covering freedom of expression, privacy and whistleblowing exhibited a number of flaws. Most companies were furthest along when it came to anti-corruption matters. The Council followed up on the inadequacies identified at the various operators by means of e-mails, phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
Collaboration among telecom operators
Given that these problems pervade the entire industry, individual operators may have trouble acting alone. The Telecom Industry Dialogue was formed in 2011 to jointly manage risks associated with violations of privacy and freedom of expression. The group began collaborating in 2013 with the Global Network Initiative (GNI) for the purpose of sharing best practice, learning and joint tools. GNI consists of human rights organisations, companies, academicians and investors. The initiative supports human rights, as well as efforts by the Information and Communication Technology industry to protect privacy and freedom of expression. The Council was member of GNI in 2013.
Transparency is vital
Transparency when it comes to official inquiries about data integrity and closure of networks is vital to ensuring that public authorities respect human rights. The particular content and procedures for reporting are open to discussion. GNI and the Industry Dialogue are discussing a possible standard – for example, if an authority submits an inquiry about 50 users, should it be regarded as one inquiry or 50?
Governments need to ensure transparency as well. The Swedish Government’s annual report describes the application of regulations about secret wiretapping and surveillance of telecommunication networks in the Code of Judicial Procedure. The report lists the number of such inquiries that Swedish courts have granted, the number that they have denied and the types of suspected offences involved. Because the report does not include inquiries by the security service, an overview of surveillance operations is not possible. All EU Member States are required to file a similar report.