Are tribunals re-inventing global internet governance? (lightning session)

6 Dec 2016 14:00h - 14:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Dr Hawley Johnson, Project Manager, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, started with an overview of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression’s Case Law that hosted nearly 800 summaries and analyses of court cases from more than 110 countries. The project is are adding 20-30 new cases each month with the help of about 100 experts and 15 legal researchers based all over the globe. The platform also offers comparative analysis of freedom of expression-related jurisprudence, blogs, and a collection on online resources for further research. The database is free and easy to access. There is an established database launched in June of 2015 that is the flagship project of a broader initiative established in 2014 by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. 

When it comes to objectives and trends, the initiative seeks to track development of norms and trends in freedom of expression legislation and case law. Essentially, the project aims to measure if countries are aligning their national laws with international standards, and if new norms are emerging. The target audience is broad, including judges, lawyers, activists, academics, and other stakeholders who rely on progressive jurisprudence to build their cases and arguments for the defense of the freedom of expression. 

In an effort to make the database available and useful to a broader audience, a Spanish version of the website was launchedin October of this year, in partnership with UNESCO, Dejusticia, FLIP (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa), and the Universidad Externado de Colombia. It includes over 170 significant decisions about Freedom of Expression and Access to Information from 16 Latin American countries and a number of other rulings from around the world, analyzed by a team of Colombian lawyers supervised by Catalina Botero Marino, an international human rights lawyer, and former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.

Hawley mentioned that she also just had 28 seminal international cases translated from English into French, Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese, which will soon be posted on the website. She then talked about trends, noting that with all of this data the project is now able to plot specific trends. In 2015 for instance, 26% of the cases, or 37 out of 195 of those analyzed had a global perspective, meaning they referenced case law from other jurisdictions and took international standards into consideration when rendering their decisions.

To illustrate the work of the project, Hawley chose a case relevant to this forum, on the issue of Google Spain and citation analysis, Google v Spain. This was a European Court of Justice case in which Mr Gonzalez, whose property had been auctioned off due to debts, complained that years later his name was still showing in Google searches in relation to the auctioned property.  He felt it was no longer relevant to the public but was embarrassing for him. 

Some main points made by the court were that European citizens have the right to request that commercial search firms such as Google should remove links to private information provided the information is no longer relevant. The fundamental right to privacy was in this case greater than the public interest in the right to information. In general the data subjects’ rights outweigh the user subjects’, except where there is a strong public interest in the issue.

by Hamza Ben Mehrez, Internet Society Tunisia