Citizen Lab alleges Netsweeper's software used to limit the freedom of expression & access to information of LGBTQ persons

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10 December 2018

Commentary: Identities in the crosshairs—censoring LGBTQ internet content around the world

Author: Miles Kenyon, Adam Senft & Ronald Deibert, The Citizen Lab

Netsweeper’s filtering technology is often used to limit and block access to certain websites that might be deemed inappropriate... We found that this technology was being used to filter a range of content, including critical political websites, independent media, and religious content... The systematic and widespread blocking of content has a number of adverse effects and contributes to further stigmatization of LGBTQ people in countries which might already be highly discriminatory... From a legal perspective, the use of Netsweeper technology to block access to LGBTQ content raises concerns about violations of a number of internationally protected rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds; and the right to non-discrimination...

[U]nder the [UN] Guiding Principles, companies such as Netsweeper have an independent responsibility to respect internationally-recognized human rights... Our research has demonstrated that the use of Netsweeper’s products and services have significant adverse impacts on the freedom of expression of LGBTQ persons and their access to information. However, it does not appear that Netsweeper has fulfilled its responsibility to respect human rights in the course of its activities. The company has no visible public policy commitment, due diligence process, or remedial measures in place regarding human rights.  

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Company response
7 December 2018

Netsweeper’s response

Author: Netsweeper

Netsweeper has begun to change its process to align its categorizations with those of other similar categorization companies.  Netsweeper provides tools that are used, inter alia, for the prevention of human trafficking, child exploitation, and terrorism. As mentioned in your article, computer equipment manufacturers that run the Internet’s fixed internet and mobile platforms all have interfaces that countries manually input web sites according to their laws, cultures, and values.  The large multinational switching, routing, software, and hardware companies that make the Internet work, cannot control when a system operator manually overrides the tools that they are provided.   Any allegation that Netsweeper is responsible for any such activities is false and misleading... 

If organizations are wanting the companies that make the Internet work to stop making the Internet work, the result would be that the Internet in those countries would be shut off.  Do Canadian and other organizations really want to motivate countries to shut off the Internet in those countries thereby causing financial crisis and no internet?

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