GitHub collaborates on how to promote human rights at RightsCon

RightsCon—an annual conference on human rights in the digital age—brought together more than 2,000 people from 115 countries last week in Toronto. On the first day of the conference, we joined non-profits, academics, and other tech companies for a session on working together to protect and promote human rights.

Alongside conversations on bias in artificial intelligence (AI) decision-making and cybersecurity capacity-building, we led the discussion on working with our community to develop the policies that govern the use of our site. In the face of public discourse on who should be deciding what speech is legal—and who should be held accountable for these decisions—we provided this example of how a platform can adopt rules through a transparent, democratic process.

At the session, we also highlighted several other ways in which our policy work promotes human rights, like freedom of expression and privacy. Some examples:

Free expression

To promote freedom of expression, we limit censorship by making sure requestors meet our detailed requirements for takedown requests and by limiting the impact of the takedown when possible. For example, we geo-block content that isn’t illegal in all jurisdictions and, when possible, ask users to remove parts of a repository that contain infringing content, rather than blocking an entire repository. In addition, we promote the right of access to information (related to the right to free expression) and transparency by publishing transparency reports and posting takedown notices in real time in our government-takedowns and DMCA repositories. We also described there (and at another RightsCon session) our work on the global implications of the EU’s copyright proposal on free expression.

In our submission to United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye’s upcoming report on content moderation and free expression, we note that our approach is consistent with international human rights law. As many speakers at RightsCon pointed out, those international standards are useful for companies looking for a baseline for evaluation that applies to users globally, without imposing one country’s norms on countless others.

Privacy

Millions of developers trust us with their data—and protecting their privacy is a top priority for us. We didn’t need to change the way we handle user data to comply with the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), which recognizes data protection as a fundamental right. We are proudly in compliance with the GDPR ahead of the law’s deadline this Friday.

Anti-slavery and child labor

GitHub’s Statement Against Modern Slavery and Child Labor outlines the steps we take to make sure modern slavery and child labor are not in our business or supply chain. RightsCon participants were interested to hear how companies that aren’t typically associated with these abuses are taking steps to show how they prevent them, including by placing requirements on their suppliers.

Beyond these examples, a human rights perspective runs through much of our work, such as immigration, open source, net neutrality, and cybersecurity. Hopefully, this illustrates how important it is for tech companies to consider the human rights implications of so much of what we do.

Coming off the heels of an invigorating week of learning and collaborating at RightsCon, we look forward to continuing our work to keep the internet free, open, and secure, and to protect human rights.

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