The Precautionary Principle as a Framework for a Sustainable Information Society

Journal of Business Ethics 85 (S3):493 - 505 (2009)
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The precautionary principle (PP) aims to anticipate and minimize potentially serious or irreversible risks under conditions of scientific uncertainty. Thus it preserves the potential for future developments. It has been incorporated into many international treaties and pieces of national legislation for environmental protection and sustainable development. In this article, we outline an interpretation of the PP as a framework of orientation for a sustainable information society. Since the risks induced by future information and communication technologies (ICT) are social risks for the most part, we propose to extend the PP from mainly environmental to social subjects of protection. From an ethical point of view, the PP and sustainability share the principle of intergenerational justice, which can be used as an argument to preserve free space for the decisions of future generations. Applied to technical innovation and to ICT issues in particular, the extended PP can serve as a framework of orientation to avoid socio-economically irreversible developments. We conclude that the PP is a useful approach for: (i) policy makers to reconcile information society and sustainability policies and (ii) ICT companies to formulate sustainability strategies

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