April 21, 2004

Concurrent 2: Global Technology, Local Law

This panel, moderated by Mike Godwin of Public Knowledge, addressed the effect of the global transfer of technology. Human Rights Watch's Jagdish Parikh stressed that, because technology transfer does not occur in a social vacuum, individual rights are often directly affected. Parikh called for corporate social responsibility in the export of technology, entailing voluntarily imposed standards for upholding civil rights. Technology companies should, for example, refuse to provide support for regimes known to commit human rights violations.

Mary Catherine Wirth explained Yahoo!'s approach to protecting both their corporate interests and the rights of citizens of other nations. Yahoo!, unlike many similar companies, chooses to set up local offices and corporations within foreign nations to develop websites targeted to a local audience in compliance with local law. Those sites, however, still provide access to locally prohibited material by linking to Yahoo sites in other jurisdictions. So while Yahoo! France bars pro-Nazi material, it does link to the U.S. based Yahoo! site allows such content.

Xiao Qiang, of The Berkeley School of Journalism's China Internet Project, argued that while a policy such as Yahoo!'s may be acceptable in France, its implications in a nation like China are more troubling. While conceding that by facilitating access to unrestricted international Chinese-language sites Yahoo! may prove to be a positive force for change in China, he contended that since China's local laws, unlike those in France, are in direct violation of international human rights standards, comporting with those laws requires a sacrifice of principle.

Dave Del Torto of the CryptoRights Foundation suggested that maintaining confidentiality through technological means is central to the promotion of freedom and democracy. Keeping users safe and communications private both encourages social activism and increases its effectiveness.

Posted by Aaron Perzanowski at April 21, 2004 03:12 PM
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