The Benefits and Challenges of the “Free Flow” of Data

12 November 2015 - A Workshop on Other in João Pessoa, Brazil


The Internet was designed so that global data flows would be dictated by efficiency, rather than centralized control or oversight. This engineering principle has provided businesses and consumers with access to the best available technology, information, and services, wherever those resources may be located around the world. It has benefitted virtually all industry sectors, from manufacturing to financial services, education, health care, and beyond. The “free flow” of data is what has allowed the Internet flourish into what it is today.

Yet governments, corporations, and non-state actors around the world are increasingly employing a variety of technical, legal, and administrative tools to restrict data flows, limiting routing and data storage to particular jurisdictions and restricting the kinds of content and data types that are permitted online. Some of these restrictions have been put in place for legitimate purposes, designed to further privacy protections, network security, and fair commerce, and have been justified within the bounds of international law and norms. Others, however, are less defensible, and are intended to unfairly support preferred commercial interests or to quell domestic political dissent. 

This panel will discuss the many benefits and challenges of the free flow of data. It will foster a discussion of the ways in which stakeholders can address the underlying reasons for data flow restrictions (such as the need for law enforcement access to data or the desire to nurture local ICT industry development, etc.) without subverting the Internet’s core potential for innovation, economic growth, and public welfare.


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