Imagine if your government blocked all online content on LGBT+ issues, including life-saving information on HIV prevention.
It’s happening right now in countries like the United Arab Emirates thanks to a Canadian company called Netsweeper.
Online communities have become critical spaces for LGBT+ people, especially youth, to connect and find support.
This is particularly important in places where homosexuality is criminalized.
For the LGBTI individuals facing widespread persecution and discrimination in the six countries where Netsweeper’s services are in use, the technology is bad news.
An extensive report released by Canadian researchers from The Citizen Lab shows how Netsweeper’s software allows governments to filter out information on ‘Alternative Lifestyles.’
That includes a ‘full range of non-traditional sexual practices, interests and orientations.’
Blocking more than just gay porn, Netsweeper blocks LGBTI support
The Citizen Lab report shows how Netsweeper’s technology labels non-pornographic LGBTI content as porn. It mistakes materials related to sexual health as adult content.
In other cases, countries are able to create custom blocking lists, allowing them to restrict access to LGBTI news websites.
Both All Out and Gay Star News have reached out to Netsweeper and received no satisfactory response.
So with R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales we at All Out have launched a petition asking the company to stop providing “LGBT+ censorship” filters.
More than 31,000 people have already joined the campaign.
In response, the Canadian government, which has provided financial support to Netsweeper in the past, agreed to review any additional funding. They will only give more if Netsweeper pledges to adjust their products.
They will have to comply with international guidelines.
Canadian Government puts pressure on Netsweeper, but so can you
As a Canadian business, Netsweeper must comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
According to this agreement, companies have an independent responsibility to respect internationally recognized human rights, and that such responsibility exists “over and above compliance with national laws and regulations”.
However, by helping governments around the world censor LGBTI content, Netsweeper is doing precisely the opposite. Moreover, they are making it harder to counter the stigma around LGBTI people.
The technology is erasing online spaces where those conversations could start.
We at All Out will keep working to get Netsweeper in line. But your support can make a difference.
If you agree technology should not be used to violate rights or fuel discrimination, please add your name to the petition now.
Yuri Guaiana is a Senior Campaigns Manager with All Out.
Author: Yuri Guaiana
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