Jurisdiction

Updates

18 May 2017

The European Parliament has voted in favour of new rules that will enable users to enjoy services they are subscribed to even when they travel to other countries in the EU. As of 2018, users will not have to pay extra to watch series, music, or sports events that are subscribed to in their country, when travelling. Rules on the portability of online content, together with rules to end data roaming, are part of the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, including the modernisation of copyright rules.

12 May 2017

Facebook will appeal a court decision in Austria, which ruled that comments posted on the social media platform about the leader of Austria's Green Party are illegal under the country's laws on hate speech. The court ordered Facebook not just to take these comments down in Austria, but everywhere else as well. Critics claim that this court decision - as well as similar ones that were taken in the case of Google in Canada and France - will endanger Internet freedom, as it would impose Austrian regulations worldwide.

12 May 2017

A Viennese Court of Appeals has ruled that Facebook must remove posts deemed as hate speech. Merely blocking the posts in Austria will not be enough: Facebook must delete the posts across the platform. The ruling is seen as a victory for anti-trolling activists, and a cause for concern for free speech proponents who believe that Austrian rules should not extend worldwide.

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Jurisdiction is the authority of the court and state organs to decide on legal cases. The relationship between jurisdiction and the Internet has been ambiguous, since jurisdiction rests predominantly on the geographical division of the globe into national territories. Each state has the sovereign right to exercise jurisdiction over its territory. However, the Internet facilitates considerable cross-border exchange, difficult (although not impossible) to monitor via traditional government mechanisms. The question of jurisdiction on the Internet highlights one of the central dilemmas associated with Internet governance: how is it possible to ‘anchor’ the Internet within existing legal and political geography?

In recent years, courts have been faced with an increasing number of cases with a strong jurisdictional element. The judgments on the right to be forgotten, cases involving authorities requesting data located in other jurisdictions, and the invalidation of the Safe Harbour Framework are notable examples. In these cases, jurisdiction’s long-arm has been put to the test.

Principles of jurisdiction

Three main considerations are important when deciding on jurisdiction:

  • Which court or state authority has the proper authority? (procedural jurisdiction)
  • Which rules should apply? (substantive jurisdiction)
  • How to implement court decisions. (enforcement jurisdiction)

The following criteria establish jurisdiction in particular cases:

  • Territorial Principle – the right of the state to rule over persons and property within its territory.
  • Personality Principle – the right of the state to rule over its citizens wherever they might be (nationality principle).
  • effects on its territory, stemming from activities conducted abroad.

Another important principle introduced by modern international law is that of universal jurisdiction. ‘The concept of universal jurisdiction in its broad sense [is] the power of a state to punish certain crimes, wherever and by whomsoever they have been committed, without any required connection to territory, nationality, or special state interest.’ Universal jurisdiction covers such crimes as piracy, war crimes, and genocide.

Conflict of jurisdiction

The conflict of jurisdiction arises when more than one state claims jurisdiction on a particular legal case. This usually happens when a legal case involves an extra-territorial component (e.g. involves individuals from different states, or international transactions). The relevant jurisdiction is established by one of the following elements: territoriality, nationality, or effect of action). When placing content or interacting on the Internet, it is difficult to know which national law, if any, might be violated. In this context, almost every Internet activity has an international aspect that could lead to multiple jurisdictions or a so-called spill-over effect.

Jurisdiction and access to content

One of the early and frequently quoted cases that exemplify the problem of multiple jurisdictions is the 2001 Yahoo! case in France. It was prompted by a breach of French law, which prohibits the exhibition and sale of Nazi objects, even though the website that provided these items – the Yahoo.com auction website – was hosted in the USA, where the display of such materials was, and still is, legal. The court case was solved through the use of a technical solution (geo-location software and filtering of access). Yahoo! was forced to identify users who accessed the site from France and block their access to the web pages showcasing Nazi materials.

Similarly, the right to be forgotten judgment (Google et al v. Mario Costeja Gonzalez et al) imposed upon search engines the obligation to consider requests from European users to remove certain results from searches.

Jurisdiction and data protection

The protection of EU citizens’ personal data stored beyond Europe’s shores has contributed to some of the most disputed cases in recent years. In 2015, Maximilian Schrems instituted proceedings against Facebook, arguing that the USA does not provide adequate protection to users’ data since the data is subject to mass surveillance under US laws. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) overturned the Safe Harbour agreement between the USA and the EU due to the fact that that public authorities in the USA were not subject to it, and that national security, public interest and law enforcement requirements in the USA prevailed over scheme. Safe Habour has been replaced with the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework.

Jurisdiction and terms of use

The jurisdiction provision in companies’ terms of use has also been in focus in many court rulings, with many court cases involving Facebook. One prominent case involved a French teacher whose Facebook account was suspended after posting images of a nude painting which hangs at the Musee d’Orsee. The French Court of Appeal ruled that Facebook can be sued in France, rejecting the social network’s argument that its terms of use state that California has jurisdiction. The French court paved the way for other lawsuits against the company outside US jurisdiction. More recently, an Israeli court set the jurisdiction clause in Facebook’s terms of use and approved a class action case against Facebook. The case argued that the network violated users’ privacy by using private posts to determine which advertisements users should see, without obtaining their prior consent.

Besides technical solutions (geo-location and filtering techniques), other approaches for solving the conflict of jurisdiction include the harmonisation of national laws and the use of arbitration and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Events

Instruments

Conventions

Link to: Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) - Article 22 on Jurisdiction (2001)

Judgements

Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González Case - Court of Justice of the European Union (2014)

Resolutions & Declarations

Recommendations

Other Instruments

Resources

Articles

The Impact of Internet Content Regulation (2002)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Jurisdiction on the Internet: From Legal Arms Race to Transnational Cooperation (2016)
Cloudy with a Conflict of Laws - How Cloud Computing Has Disrupted the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty System and Why It Matters (2016)
Internet Fragmentation: An Overview (2016)
Personal Data Storage in Russia (2015)

Reports

One Internet (2016)
Content Removal Requests Report (2016)
2015 In Retrospect (Vol. 4) (2016)
Freedom on the Net 2015 (2015)

Processes

IGF 2016 Report

 

IGF discussions on legal issues have evolved from the question of whether existing law applies to the Internet to the question of how it applies.

When it comes to the application of existing law online, the main issue is jurisdiction. The complex and multidisciplinary issues are addressed through a specific legal angle by judges, as they may not understand the technical implications or even more importantly, may not be aware of alternative solutions to legal disputes. The blocking of WhatsApp in Brazil was an example of a court judgement that violated the fundamental freedom of speech guaranteed under Brazilian law (The Role of Judiciary Systems and Internet Governance - WS162). Among measures to alleviate this challenge, it was suggested to introduce Internet regulation as a part of curriculum of law schools. 

Unwillingly, Internet companies are taking a juridical role. Google accepts approximately half of the requests for the right to be forgot- ten. Among other – refused – requests, there are some that could open many legal Pandora-type boxes: procedural matters, basis of judgement, right to appeal, etc. (The 'Right to Be Forgotten' and Privatized Adjudication - WS28). 

 

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