December, 2015 | Source: ICTSD and World Economic Forum This paper addresses the question of whether it is possible to balance the need for a free flow of information across borders with legitimate government concerns related to public order, consumer privacy, and security. The paper begins by highlighting the risks associated with limitations on free information flows and the policy concerns that lead to these limitations. The paper then provides an analysis of the current international regime on cross-border information flows. The authors argue that specific binding trade language promoting cross-border flows — combined with continued international cooperation — will enhance, rather than undermine, public order, national security, and privacy.
The newest battleground in international trade is over the flow of information. Governments seek to exercise control over data flows as part of their broader efforts to assert what they see as “digital sovereignty.” Some governments believe that the free flow of information poses a threat to public order, consumer privacy, or national security. Privately, many governments also worry about the competition for domestic businesses from foreign service providers, especially in domains traditionally insulated from foreign competition. In response, excessive government assertions of national borders in cyberspace may “balkanize” the Internet and erode the enormous benefits of this global medium. This tension raises a crucial question: is it possible to balance the free flow of information across borders with legitimate concerns related to public order, consumer privacy, and security?
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