In her book, The shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein illustrates how crisis in societies have repeatedly been utilized and harnessed to push through controversial legislation that infringe upon our civil liberties and amass more centralized state power: Protecting self-interests at the cost of public-interests. The IMMI proposal is developed to counter this tradition and utilize the crisis as a chance to bring about positive fundamental changes in the best long-term interests of the public.
Why should Iceland become a safe haven for information and freedom of speech?
In the aftermath of the Collapse the nation was at a crossroads. During such times it is necessary to not only confront the past but also to create a clear vision for the nation. The changes in legislation Alþingi unanimously agreed will be implemented to allow for a progressive environment for both the registration and operation of international media and publishing companies, startup companies, human rights organizations and data centers. Such changes would strengthen democratic foundations, promote necessary reform and increase transparency. This new policy has already enhanced the nation’s reputation abroad and created many economic as well as employment opportunities, despite many of the necessary changes in law yet to be made due to a slow working process within the ministries.
The decision on where an online publishing is based is built on criteria such as distance, telecommunications ability, cost of servers – such as cooling – and legal environment. The first two conditions are favorable in Iceland. Strong sea cables connected to some of the biggest markets for information services, clean energy and a cool climate make the country a very realistic choice for those who operate online services.
Here exist the ideal conditions to create a holistic policy where a legal environment ensures the protection of freedom of expression, the work of investigative journalists and of those who publish materials carrying important political weight. The information society has little to offer if ways to disseminate information relevant to the public are constantly under attack. Although some countries have implemented progressive laws in this field, no one country has unified them all to create a safe haven as the one we propose. Iceland has a unique opportunity to take the lead in the field by putting together a solid legal framework that is built on best practices from around the world.
A legal framework, built on best practices, would attract powerful media and human rights organizations to the country, which are under threat in current locations. For example, British publishing companies are increasingly being forced to remove articles and information from their databases to guard against a growing number of libel charges and secret gag orders. The global press would both raise awareness of the legal framework and work to protect it. In the long term it would empower democracy in Iceland. It’s not long ago that Iceland got a taste of such gag order attempts, when Kaupthing bank got an injunction to block news reports on its loan accounts in August of 2009.
Owing to a solid set of media laws in Sweden, many important and acclaimed media and human rights organizations have moved their online registration there. With costs associated with court cases spiraling out of control enabled by faulty legislation around the world, a growing demand is for a cap on costs in cases where publishers have been charged. Without such a cap on legal costs the ability to transmit news and disseminate objective information is greatly reduced.
In order for press freedom to exist here a legal framework is needed that ensures a well functioning media, one which satisfies its role as the fourth estate. Freedom of the press and freedom of information increases public participation in the decision making process and policy implementation of the state. That public participation is the foundation of democracy.
The IMMI resolution discussed here, that Iceland become a safe haven for journalism, freedom of expression and freedom of information, has already garnered great support and respect around the world. Many nations have already viewed IMMI as a benchmark when reviewing their legislation holistically to prepare for the 21st century and the borderless reality every nation now faces up to with the advent of the Internet.
It is hard to imagine a more powerful redemption of a nation from the ruins of extensive financial corruption and secrecy to that being proposed, a safe haven of journalism and governmental transparency.
21st century lawyers
It is important to teach 21st century law in Iceland in order for the lawyers of the future to have expertise in the fields IMMI addresses. There is a great need for lawyers who have a deep understanding of the complex legal environment international treaties have brought about. Iceland’s unique position as a place to safely host data will be confirmed in the courts. There will be a great demand for lawyers who specialize in defending freedom of expression and freedom of information. The press has been under attack, libel cases and gag orders have lead to self-censorship. When organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and unions in Germany, investigative journalists and media specializing in reporting on the most powerful, look toward Iceland to host their data, it is vitally important that here exists the expertise required to defend the safety of such sensitive data stored here. IMMI has already attracted a wide array of lawyers around the world who are interested in helping the institute build up such expertise in Iceland. This project is viewed as one of the most important task to meet growing attempts to hush debate, stifle news and remove information.