ICANN – Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Major companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter want Congress to support US government (US Department of Commerce mainly) plans to hand off the internet’s technical management to the global community. Some politicians in Congress, notably Ted Cruz, want to block the transition because of the potential for authoritarian governments to hold back the internet’s progress and infringe on American freedoms.

First, I support the transition. I don’t like the idea of the United States being the Internet gatekeeper and having relatively much stronger influence over the global Internet compared to other countries.

Second, ICANN is going to govern IP delegation and top level domains. I don’t see what major affect those things could have on the internet infrastructure.

Third, it might not even matter a whole lot. The US will likely have pretty great influence over ICANN anyways. Besides that, the US has historically proven very adept at strong-arming other countries and organizations into acting in US favorable ways. So if ICANN ever actually became a “problem” the US will find a way to deal with it.

Freedom of Speech via The Internet

This past week, we read some examples of jurisdiction cases and discussed when and how a court decides if it can hear an internet related case when the jurisdiction is not so clear. One of the cases was Dow Jones & Co. V. Gutnick. This was a case where the Wall Street Journal posted an article that an Australian man, named Joseph Gutnick, claimed was defamatory. Our professor briefly mentioned the United States values and defends freedom of speech a lot more that the rest of the world and I thought I would investigate that.

I found an All Things Considered interview where the host, Robert Siegel discussed this with an international law professor named Noah Feldman. They briefly discussed an anti-Muslim video, Innocence of Muslims, that caused violent protests in many Muslim countries and communities throughout the world.

Noah talked to a few Tunisians who were astonished that something like that would be protected in the United States. He added that the United States can largely disagree with and condemn controversial and offensive content like this, but it often creates a cultural disconnect, especially to targeted cultures, where the US is seen as complicit because of its unwillingness to take action against said content.

They also discuss the well known limitations on speech where courts have ruled that an individual cannot go in front of a crowd and incite immediate violence. The most interesting point that connects to what we discussed this past week was when they brought up Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. In 2010, he questioned how hyper-connectivity, globalization, and the internet could change free speech and suggested we reconsider our current limitations on free speech. Justice Breyer faced considerable backlash for this but he raised a solid point that becomes especially interesting in the context of Innocence of Muslims and other offensive content like it.

As previously mentioned, it is well known that speech can be shut down if it is evident it will cause immediate danger or harm to someone or a group of people. But what if that speech is in video form and uploaded to the internet? Innocence of Muslims was a video that was uploaded to YouTube and accessible to a global population. It caused a few pretty violent protests in Egypt and other Arab and Muslim nations. One could easily argue it was evident the video would stir up violence and that it should be shut down. Google even took it upon itself to block the video in the Egypt and Libya as a result of the violence. Should the creators of that video face punishment for the resulting violence in foreign countries? Could they be prosecuted in the United States? Should we reconsider our limits on free speech because of the global impact our free speech can have?

Internet Law Across International Borders

I thought David Johnson brought up some interesting points about the internet and physical territorial borders between nations. He talks about how borders are used for power by establishing laws to govern the people and things within the physical space defined by a border. Borders have the effect of keeping countries outside of a border from enforcing their own laws, beyond their own border. Legitimacy comes from the consent of the governed; the people within the borders most directly affected by the laws. Borders also provide notice to anyone crossing a border that the rules have changed.

All of this changes in interesting way when cyberspace is brought into the picture. Companies operating in/through cyberspace can easily circumvent the power and laws of a country established by a border. Ideas in cyberspace can have a global effect because the data exchanged in a network is not centralized. This as a result, can subvert legitimacy and notice because no group of people within any border can make a legitimate claim for regulating cyberspace activities.

This made me think about pirating and how copyright laws are enforced internationally. No doubt, a lot of the push for copyright law enforcement comes from the RIAA and the MPAA which both represent the recording and motion picture industries in the United States. As expected, these organizations want to limit and even stop the file sharing that allows people to download and distribute their media for free. But what has to happen for PirateBay servers in Sweden to get shut down or the owner of KickAssTorrents, a Ukrainian national, to get arrested in Poland.

Both of these countries, and others like it, hosting web sites associated with pirating, have significantly less than the US to preserve, or even gain, from fighting piracy. In some circumstances, these countries may not even have the resources to put up a good fight. Most of the pirated media is not produced in those countries. The people in those countries will likely see very little of the profits made, if any at all. So why would they care about fighting privacy? What motivates these countries into action?

My guess is that the motion picture and recording industries lobby the US government into pressuring other countries with signed treaties, agreements, or even economic trade sanctions. By not directly forcing US copyright law on these countries, the United States, and by extension the RIAA and MPAA, adhere to and respect the border policies David Johnson describes. But is this method legitimate? Do the actions taken by the Polish and Swedish government in the fight against piracy reflect the consent of their governed? Is it okay for foreign governments and businesses to have this kind of influence over the internet policy of other countries? How could this affect global internet policy?