Privacy and free expression, both fundamental human rights, are closely connected. Protecting our customers’ information also enables them to communicate freely.

We secure customers’ data on our networks – and help them protect themselves online – as part of our strategy to create standout customer experiences (see our Annual Report). And our privacy impact assessment tool helps us make sure we build privacy into the design of new products and services to protect our customers and their data. 

Challenges around tech, privacy and free expression are continually evolving. We work with other tech companies and human rights organisations to respond through our involvement in the Global Network Initiative (GNI). We support the GNI’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy and this year we presented a self-assessment of our performance against the principles to the GNI board. We identified several areas where we could improve and we’re strengthening our policies, processes and governance structures in advance of an independent external assessment in the coming year. 

This year, at the UK Government’s request we provided limited anonymised network data – such as general patterns in the movement of people – to help plan the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government has subsequently begun paying for this information following a formal competitive tender. No personal data is involved, and individual users can’t be identified. Safeguards include scheduled reviews, additional security and measures to ensure data remains anonymised (see our website for more).

Sometimes authorities can legally request access to data or communications to help tackle serious crime or protect national security. In these cases, a government overrides individuals’ right to privacy to protect the security of its citizens. We’re obliged by law to provide information requested under these investigatory powers, but we have processes in place to assess each request carefully. We ask for more information if we have questions about what we’re being asked or want to check the legality of the request. See the Appendix for a summary of lawful interception and data disclosure requests received in 2020 by country. Our Privacy and Free Expression Report explains our approach to privacy and free expression in more depth.