The freedom of the internet may not be as free as it once was in short order as countries peer in to assess cross border information flow. National courts are determining internet content in a growing rate causing inconsistency in the ‘www.’ Canada, France, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey are setting example for seeking content restriction.
Although there is merit to preventing national law from being violated, such as the exercise of free expression, there are challenges to foreign affairs when national courts weigh in on trade secrets, privacy, freedom of speech, data protection, digital legacy of an individual, right to be forgotten, to name a few. For instance, a British Columbia Court of Appeal, in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack, required Google to remove websites from its global index. It did not order Google to remove selected links.
What it did do was address the database as a whole. The purpose was to prevent anyone from accessing the search results. The B.C. Court cited a Yahoo case in France along with the EU decision on the issue of the ‘right to be forgotten,’ and opined that these decisions are not inconsistent with international comity.
The stretch to have a ‘removal order’ decision have global impact is monumental. The unraised question is to what extent does a forum country overstep its sovereign juridical restriction vis-à-vis other countries, with all due respect to their sovereignty? There are multidimensional consequences that touch on trade policies, media censorship, freedom of expression, democracy, information access, advertising, public relations and IP blocking to prevent content disclosure. The ultimate consequence would lead to a smaller ‘WWW’ with regional and national influences directed by local regimes. The concern should be the course of piecemeal decisions setting precedent that national courts resort to despite not being juridically equipped to impact the ‘WWW.’