Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Dangers Of Law Enforcement 2.0

The Case Of ’Twibel’ Or The Dangers Of Law Enforcement 2.0
While we love the idea that there are no boundaries anymore and we can feed the world from our dorm in a little village, the courts and prosecutors had the same idea and extended their tentacles to cross national boundaries

Remember the days we were all afraid of viruses and Trojans? When your mom warned you about MSN as that friendly bloke could be an adult hoping to get you to undress for your webcam. And, oh horror, that the postmen could serve you a nasty letter from a local copyright organization if your child did some file-sharing.

Welcome to 2012, welcome to a much more dangerous world. Gone are the days of our innocence as every word we utter on the Internetz is scrutinized and could be used against us in a court of law. We used to think we were safe if we complied with the law and hey, that’s not so difficult for most people!

After all, most of us are decent folks and we perfectly know what’s off limits. Well forget about it. Knowing what you can and can’t do no longer safeguards you from the long arms of the law. The truth is that your local laws no longer matter. You can be tried for violating random laws of other nations if you happen to have even the slightest connection with them.

When former German Kim Dotcom sat up a lucrative file sharing service called Megaupload in New Zealand he knew he had to comply with intellectual property rights regulations worldwide. He thought he had done his homework and had put all the required mechanisms in place to satisfy the New Zealand laws.

He never realized that a Virginia, USA, court could issue a decision to seize all his goods, his servers all over the world and arrest him in his hometown in New Zealand. Armed officers arrived in helicopters and dropped into the Dotcom mansion courtyard, not exactly what he had in mind when he emigrated to the Kiwi island.

Why, because the US thinks it controls the .com domains and Verisign is the top level domain issuer and happens to be located in Virginia. Next thing he knew the FBI asked and got full compliance with the New Zealand authorities and the raid on his private residence was a reality.

Now, Kim Dotcom, née Kim Schmitz, was a convicted criminal so the public opinion couldn’t care less. He tried to argue that his services were not that different from RapidShare or YouTube but the public was just as quick as the American court: once a crook, always a crook and living in exuberant wealth didn’t help in getting him the sympathy vote either.

But what about the little guy, British youngster Richard O'Dwyer who started a simple service (TV Shack) which hosted links to other websites where users could access content but did not host any of the content itself. The United States demanded his extradition and again claimed to have jurisdiction based on US copyright laws and once more because Richard used a .com extension putting him squarely under US jurisdiction.

His lawyer is desperately pleading to keep the 23 year old in the UK and argues that he didn’t do more than Google or Yahoo as he just provided links to other websites, but the extradition process is well on its way.

His mom is quoted as saying "If they can come for Richard, they can come for anybody ... there are no safeguards for British citizens," She is right as there is no protection against the long arms of ‘justice’.What would have been a minor misdemeanor and in the UK resulting in a fine, suddenly became a nightmare with a mother afraid that her son will commit suicide in an American jail.

It shows that, if you behave according to the laws of your own country, using the Internet suddenly exposes you to laws all over the world. Having a .com, a .org, or .net domain is sufficient to make you vulnerable to US laws no matter where you are located.

Still doubt that the Internet not only opened up your outlook on the world, but also your vulnerability to laws you never heard of before? Take the latest case dubbed ‘Twibel’ because it involves a tweet whose content is considered libel. The case should be too ridiculous to even reach the courts, but unfortunately, Justice is not only blind but also devoid of any sense of irony.

What happened is straightforward and for regular users of Twitter not remarkable at all:

Lalit Modi, head of the Indian cricket competition, tweeted that New Zealand’s international Chris Cairns was involved in a fraud by rigging a game of cricket. Now I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan so I just assume he took his time to make sure his trousers were perfectly white before doing whatever he should have done, but I understand it’s quite an insult.

Chris, the spotless player, was understandably mad at Lalit, and the tweet was removed within 16 hours. Case closed you would say, but no, Chris hired an expensive law office and went to the UK courts. Now get this clear: someone from New Zealand feels insulted by a Indian official through a statement posted on Twitter which has its shiny new headquarters in San Francisco. Why would a British judge even accept this case?

Well, there is a catch: the tweets were read by British citizens. All 65 of them, to be precise! Nobody was sure but the Indian claimed it were only 35 people and the insulted cricketer apparently thought at least 95 fans from England and Wales were sufficiently interested enough in cricket to have read it. The judge settled for 65 and delivered his verdict yesterday. Lalit, our Indian, will have to pay 90.000 pounds (107.000 Euro) for his 140 inflammatory characters.

His lawyer stated “I think Twitter makes a big difference because the whole point about Twitter is that it goes viral and it goes around the world and that's the danger.” while we wonder if he is aware that some tweets are read by a lot more than 65 people. This got into the major UK newspapers during the two year legal battle so I guess pointing at the social media for exposing Chris Cairns as a match fixer underestimates the publicity caused by this court case.

Nevertheless it’s an important decision as we can no longer hide behind the right to comment on current events. A tweet could be as important as an op-ed in the Guardian and have the same consequences. The most worrying thought however is that you’re no longer safe if you just abide by your local laws. If your text can cross the national boundaries, so can justice, it seems.

Are you concerned about your freedom to act and speak as you see fit and is correct in the country where you reside? After all, there will always be some law somewhere, which you are violating while using the Internet and I’m pretty sure more than 65 people are reading this.

Police standing in blood

inb4 no one reads the entire post.

the truth


No comments:

Post a Comment