Millicom joins Global Network Initiative

Milka Pietikainen speaking about challenges linked to legislation related to mandatory parental controls on the Internet

Millicom's lead specialists regularly report on important new developments within their areas of expertise. Milka Pietikainen, our VP Corporate Responsibility, reports back on Millicom's decision to join the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder coalition founded in 2008 to work jointly to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.

April 2017: Last week Millicom announced its membership, together with six other telecommunications companies, of the 50-member Global Network Initiative (GNI).

GNI brings together tech companies, ethical investors, academics and human rights organizations to jointly work on solutions to complex situations in which people’s fundamental rights for privacy and free expression come into conflict with government measures to protect national security and stability.

Telecommunications companies like Millicom are increasingly finding themselves caught in the middle of this tension, as they operate critical infrastructure and are required to hold a significant amount of information about people’s communications and movements.

We are witnessing new levels of scrutiny and demand for transparency on how tech companies collaborate with governments, in particular since 2013 when former CIA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents pertaining to the topic.

Snowden’s disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs of the United States and alliances that involved European governments and technology companies.

Earlier, several other high profile cases had raised the question of responsibility among tech companies faced with legal orders to release user data or suspend services. Those orders may be legal in their local context, but contrary to standards set out in international human rights law and conventions – or the view promoted by the United Nations on internet access as a human right in itself.

For Millicom, joining GNI is a natural step.

We have spent considerable time over the past few years engaging with stakeholders around these complex issues, and putting in place policies and processes that help us minimize negative impacts to freedom of expression and privacy.

Millicom faces many complex situations where it will be helpful to engage with different groups inside GNI as a resource for best practice, best advice and even direct support.

As members of GNI, we will also be putting our internal processes to test through the GNI’s independent assessment process. This is a key trust-building exercise between members who may be fierce competitors or who would traditionally sit at opposing ends of an issue.

We look forward to be able to speak with a unified and strong voice for clearer laws around surveillance and government access and against government-mandated shutdowns of telecom and internet services.

We also look forward to learning from other companies, finding new perspectives from civil society and academics, and engaging with investors in order to drive a level playing field in the tech sector. The issues GNI deals with will certainly not get any less complex in the dawn of 5G and Internet of Things.

Millicom is the only tech company in the GNI with its footprint solely in emerging markets. We are pleased that Colombian NGO, Karisma, joined the GNI the same day we did, and we hope that us coming into this debate will encourage other companies, academics, investors and civil society organizations from Latin America, Africa and Asia to join GNI, so our dialogue can be more representative of the reality of these issues in the wider world.