Internet: A threat to government or the other way around? (Part 4)

Justice systems around the world have been turned upside down over the past several years because of the Internet. The basic sets of laws, often founded on a nation's constitution, are being used in ways that forefathers never anticipated or envisioned.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor

Justice systems around the world had their entire world turned upside down over the past several years because of the Internet. The basic sets of laws, often founded on a nation's constitution are being used in ways that many forefathers never anticipated or envisioned. Republic, Dominion and Socialist government institutions around the world are all facing the same issues - often without any clear path of legal precedent.

One of the challenges facing courts is jurisdiction. Because of the very nature of the Internet, legal systems are now faced with new roadblocks that did not exist 10 years ago. Traditional methods of law enforcement and legal treaties do work and continue to be the basis of process and dealing with prosecution and trials. Interpretation of existing laws and applying them to Internet-related cases has not been a significant challenge in many cases. But there are some new aspects of what is admitted into court.


What has shocked the system is how Internet-based materials are now used in the courts as evidence. Everything from ISP logs, website blogs, and social media sites (among others) are now being used in ways that prosecutors and jurists have never had to deal with in the past. It is also becoming a battle ground for several areas of law, particularly the integrity of evidence. This has many in the legal world concerned. It's becoming clear that this will be an area of significant debate and will have far-reaching consequences. Internet evidence does not have look and feel of traditional evidence and, in many cases, has yet to be challenged as to its validity. Prosecutors are faced with a dilemma that impacts how and what they prosecute. This in turn has created a new source of political initiatives that are not only questionable, but in some parts of the world viewed as extreme.

Don't have a Law yet? We'll make one

The evolution of law and how it is created has traditionally been a slow and low priority part of the political system. No longer is that the case. Government ministers and cabinet officials appear to be fast-tracking new laws, specifically because of the Internet at a rapid pace of late. Politicians are practically tripping over themselves drafting new bills that claim that they know how to fix the problems of cybercrime and abuse. These ideas are moving at such a rapid pace that often few people actually have read the fine print. What concerns many is the advice politicians are getting on how Internet law should be created. Governments all over the world will have significant impact on such issues as free speech, Net neutrality, news, crime and governance of institutions.


There is not much sympathy for the courts in many parts of the world. That may soon change as news travels across the multimedia world of the Internet. Attorneys general throughout the United States are political and create their own priorities and thus control what is heard before the courts. This may have significant consequences as to the timing of how the Internet evolves and impact the economics of the service that potentially influences it's usage for decades. In the United Kingdom, the courts will have to take into account European treaties and the European Parliament. Canada's magistrates may strike down or uphold newly created laws that may wind up creating in-balance that could take years to reverse.

Rules await the Internet

Regulators such as the CRTC, FCC, OfCom are charting new territory in communication rules and regulations. Lawmakers are beginning to micro-manage this process. No one yet knows what the impact these new elements will have on the judicial system. It will take years before this is known and goes through several rigorous tests of the court system. Case law may take a decade or more before any true outcomes are known. By that time, a nation will have changed political administration and have new agendas that reset the cycle before some true outcomes are known. Net Neutrality will be debated and wind up before the courts in jurisdictions around the world. The results will vary like your bandwidth speed and access to content.

Global perspective

Laws of a nation are now being combined in many parts of the world. The very essence of a sovereign nation set of laws is slowly being merged into a single set by which it will adhere to. This is particularly true in Europe where the European Parliament is attempting to create laws specifically surrounding the Internet. This has the potential to create political and legal challenges for courts in how they make decisions. The consequences have significant long term impacts on how courts operate and what order of Appeals and jurisdiction as they enter cyber space with profound outcomes yet to be decided.

The Supreme Court

Supreme Court decisions have not had an impact on the Internet - but likely will. Major court decisions at local, state, and provincial levels are being appealed and many will eventually be argued before the Supreme Court. That draws concern because of how many governments nominate and select jurists to be a part of the Supreme Court framework. In general terms, the institution is politically driven and has the potential to create decisions that may in fact be contrary to the very principles that many of us take for granted. It also works in the other direction. Many a government has had policies and laws overturned by the courts. Key segments will be privacy, Internet access and tracking - along with content management tangled with identity security. It could be argued that elected government officials are not a threat to the Internet, the courts are. The counter point is that will force parliamentarians to change the law, a task far easier said than done. Compounding the problem is that the highest courts around the world have (almost) unlimited tenure until death.  Jurists that will have profound impacts on the stance of governments surrounding Internet issues are in China, Pakistan, India, Russia, and the Middle East. China is unique in that it will have to eventually deal with treaties in which it is a signatory to, but no one has yet to appeal any government policies. It may soon have to. If WTO treaties are before their court system, the Internet could be next.

The court system in most democratic nations has dynamics rarely resulting in quick decisions. It may take years before government's leaders and the lawmakers truly understand what they are dealing with. Some will fail in creating new laws that are considered extreme by many; others may actually pass the litmus test of a Supreme Court decision. History awaits the outcome.

Epilogue - it will never have an ending

So here we are; some of the files are out in the open, more need further decryption, understanding and updating. The pace of the discussion is increasing and appears to be moving along with few delays. 2010 promises to be the start of a new decade that has a few fundamental issues to resolve. The debate has begun and could be a pivotal point in how society uses and government manages the Internet.

Go back to: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 in this series

Additional resources:

Net Neutrality: Why the Internet will never be free. For anything. So get used to it

AT&T to FCC: Open to Net Neutrality ideas - with conditions

Net Neutrality: You own the Internet - make sure it becomes Law

Electronic Frontier Foundation links net neutrality to copyright

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