restricted access 10 Corporate Accountability in Networked Asia
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10 Corporate Accountability in Networked Asia Rebecca MacKinnon In 2010, Google’s defiance of Chinese government censorship demands, followed by its decision to remove its Chinese search operations from mainland China, grabbed front-page headlines around the world. Human rights groups and socially responsible investors praised the global Internet giant for standing up to the Chinese government’s censorship policies. China’s sophisticated system of Internet censorship and control depends on the compliance of domestic and foreign corporate intermediaries, which are required by Chinese law to help authorities track user activity and to remove or prevent publication and transmission of politically sensitive content on or through their services. Yet China is by no means the only Asian country where companies face government pressure to reveal user data or remove content in ways that violate internationally recognized human rights principles. Local and international human rights groups point to Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, and the Philippines as countries where “Chinesestyle ” Internet controls are increasingly deployed to silence or monitor dissent, often implemented by means of private-sector information and communication technologies (ICTs) service providers, carriers, and platforms.1 Reporters Without Borders includes Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Australia, and South Korea on its watch list of countries with surveillance trends heading in the wrong direction.2 Recent studies of global surveillance and censorship by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) and others are showing that private-sector Internet and telecommunications companies play an increasingly important role in government efforts to control what citizens can or cannot do in cyberspace.3 Even in Asia’s most vibrant democracies such as South Korea and India, companies—domestic and foreign—face government demands for censorship and user-data handover in ways that violate Internet users’ rights to free expression and privacy. The idea that upholding free expression and privacy rights should be a component of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR)—alongside other corporate responsibilities including labor standards, environmental protection, and sustainability—is a new concept for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), investors, companies, and 196 Rebecca MacKinnon governments in the industrialized West, let alone anywhere else.4 In the first ONI volume, Access Denied, Jonathan Zittrain and John Palfrey called for an industry code of conduct.5 In 2008 came the launch of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multistakeholder initiative through which companies not only make a commitment to core principles of free expression and privacy, but also agree to be evaluated independently on the extent to which they actually adhere to these principles.6 In the second ONI volume, Access Controlled, Colin Maclay examined the challenges facing this newly formed organization, a core challenge being the recruitment of members.7 As of this writing, only three companies, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, have agreed to be held publicly accountable for the way in which they handle government demands for censorship and surveillance around the world. No other North American companies have made this public commitment, and no companies from any other continents or regions have yet been willing to make a similar public commitment to free expression and privacy as a core component of responsible business practice. Yet other forms of CSR—including environmental, labor, and sustainability standards —are by no means foreign to Asian businesses, even in China.8 Might public expectations for corporate accountability in the area of free speech and privacy also rise in Asia in the coming years—particularly if these expectations are fed by increased civil society activism, pushing for greater accountability and transparency by ICT companies around their interactions with governments? In this chapter I compare government censorship and surveillance demands faced by companies in authoritarian China alongside the challenges faced by companies in two neighboring democracies that also have robust ICT industries and markets: South Korea and India. I argue that efforts to hold companies other than Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft accountable for free speech and privacy in authoritarian countries like China will face an uphill battle unless companies in Asia’s democracies are pushed by domestic civil society actors to defend and protect user rights in a more robust manner than is currently the case. China: “Networked Authoritarianism” and the Private Sector9 As ONI research over the past decade has shown, China has the world’s most sophisticated system of Internet filtering, which blocks access to vast numbers of Web sites and online content hosted by companies and on computer servers located mainly outside China.10 But filtering is only the top layer of the country’s elaborate system of Internet censorship...