ICC is calling for governments to accept the principle that laws and rules on freedom of expression and the flow of information offline should be applicable online too.
"Global business is worried by the growing tendency for governments to restrict international data flows over the Internet," said Stefan Bernhard, a lawyer at Bird & Bird in Sweden and former Vice-Chair of the ICC Commission on the Digital Economy.
ICC upholds that freedom of expression online should only be limited when necessary to achieve legitimate public policy objectives, such as protecting the rights of others and the rules of law consistent with international treaties.
“The businesses and organizations that contributed to this ICC policy statement strongly believe we should be allowed to share our information freely across borders – whether it is to express our beliefs, or to conduct business,” Mr Bernhard said.
Any limitations to freedom of expression, in the interest of public policy, should be established according to laws and regulations that are drafted in a transparent manner, according to the statement, which was drawn up by the ICC Commission on the Digital Economy in consultation with hundreds of companies, organizations and ICC national committees worldwide.
Measures to protect against shut-down of the Internet in case of emergencies, such as political unrest, are necessary, it states.
“The free flow of information over the Internet has proven itself not only to be highly important in order to freely express human opinions and preferences but also to be a key enabler when it comes to supporting economic development, trade and business, encompassing public and private companies, including Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs),” the statement reads.
Governments must work together with business to tackle obstacles to the free flow of information online – according to ICC – not only to protect freedom of expression, but also to ensure that all companies have the possibility of engaging in legitimate commercial activity.
To this end, ICC urges governments, business, civil society, academics and the Internet technical community to join forces to build greater trust in information and communications technology networks, including necessary cross-border cooperation.
This advocacy is part of ICC’s wider contribution to human rights and business. ICC supports the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework, with its principle that the state’s duty is to protect human rights, and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. The ICC Commission on the Digital Economy in particular applauds the Working Group on Business and Human Rights of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, which encourages National Human Rights Institutions to work together in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Read the Digital Economy policy statement on: The freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet