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The Council of Europe, organized on the 18th and 19th April 2011 in Strasbourg the conference “Internet Freedom: From principles to global treaty law?” The goal of the conference was to answer the question: what kind of responsibility should states have to preserve the Internet?

Recent events in Northern Africa and developments related to the Wikileaks case have clearly shown how access to the Internet content and services can be easily disrupted. The Internet can be switched off, snatching from millions of people the possibility to communicate or access information. The fundamental right to freedom of expression may be jeopardized and values of democracy may be put in question.

The conference’s agenda was to examine possible ways to protect and promote Internet’s universality, intergrity and openness. It discusses whether there is scope for further international law action to preserve the Internet as a means of safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information. The outcome of the conference was a success: Draft Program Conference Internet Freedom Council of Europe. The representatives of Council of Europe member states, the US Department of State, International Telecommunications Union (private sector), civil society and experts on cross-border Internet were present.

Read the opening Speech by Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


The U.S’s reaction to Wikileaks is interesting to look at regarding Internet freedom and Privacy. The United States’ argument to put Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, on trial are the non-respect of governmental secrets and their publishing on the Internet. The legal implications of this case are related to freedom of speech on Internet. Did Assange violate Espionage Act? Is Wikileaks protected under the U.S’ First Amendment? Will Assange be indicted?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” — The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Read this article:

Ron Kirk, U.S Trade Representative, sent a letter to the Chinese government requesting information about its censorship practices. China operates the world’s most elaborate internet censorship system.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu’s answer was that Chinese censorship followed international practice. New bills: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act, could bring similar features of Chinese Internet Great Firewall to America.

“Opposition to SOPA is widespread, bipartisan, and international. The Center for Democracy and Technology is collecting links to blog posts, articles as well as letters of opposition from human rights groups, Internet engineers, law professors, Internet companies, public interest advocates, consumer rights groups, among others.”

Read Rebecca MacKinnon’s answer to this in the New York Times.

Over the last decade, states have enacted legislation purporting to regulate almost every conceivable form of Internet activity. However, questions have arisen regarding the legitimacy of jurisdiction on the Internet. Activities in cyberspace cannot be governed by territorially based sovereigns.

“The global reach of the Internet raises the possibility that online activities can subject businesses to the jurisdiction of courts in far-flung places. The rules for Internet-based jurisdiction are still being spelled out by U.S. courts. The general rule emerging is that operation of an active Web site, where one actually transacts business through the Web site, is sufficient to confer “general jurisdiction” over the site’s owner; that is, to subject the site’s owner to all lawsuits of any sort, whether or not related to the Web site’s activities. The theory of general jurisdiction is that the defendant is constructively present in the state by reason of doing business with that state’s citizens, albeit from a distant locale.

At the other end of the continuum are passive Web sites, which only advertise or provide information to online visitors. Most courts have held that passive Web sites do not provide a basis for jurisdiction. But what about Web sites that provide some limited level of interactivity, such as allowing email exchanges or allowing or requiring visitors to submit personal information?

A court recently answered this question and held that such limited interactivity is not sufficient to confer jurisdiction. In Hurley v. Cancun Playa Oasis International Hotels, No. Civ.A. 99-574, 1999 WL 718556 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 31, 1999), the plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, was injured while staying at a hotel in Cancun, Mexico. He sued the U.S. agent for the hotel, a Georgia corporation, in the plaintiff’s home state of Pennsylvania.

The defendant moved to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction. In the ruling on the motion to dismiss, the court said that Web sites fall under three categories: (1) those that actually conduct business over the Internet, (2) those that allow exchange of information with the Web site, and (3) those that merely post information or advertisements. The court held that jurisdiction generally exists in the first category and does not exist in the third. However, in the second category, whether jurisdiction exists “is determined by examining the level of interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information that occurs on the Web site.”

The court examined the particular site’s level of interactivity and the extent of its contacts with Pennsylvania residents and held that these contacts were not sufficient to confer general jurisdiction. The site accepted and confirmed reservations online, advertised a toll-free number for telephone reservations, and allowed email exchanges with the site’s owner. The court found no evidence in the record that these interactive contacts with Pennsylvania residents were sufficiently “continuous, systematic, and substantial” to support general jurisdiction.

Note that this case might have come out differently had the plaintiff’s claim arisen out of his contacts with the Web site, but the court was not called upon to reach this issue, because the plaintiff had never visited the defendant’s site. What if the plaintiff had booked his reservation on the site? What if he had read the on-site ads and then called the toll-free number to book his room? Answers to questions such as these will have to await future cases.

For two other cases involving limited-interactivity Web sites, see Molnlycke Health Care AB v. Dumex Medical Surgical Products Ltd., 64 F. Supp. 2d 448 (E.D. Pa. 1999) (no jurisdiction in patent infringement case where defendant advertised his products on site and allowed purchases directly from site, but no evidence of significant sales in Pennsylvania), and Mink v. AAAA Development LLC, 190 F.3d 333 (5th Cir. 1999) (no jurisdiction over copyright infringement case where defendant’s site advertised allegedly infringing software code but had made no sales into Texas).

The application of Internet jurisdictional rules to defamation cases is equally interesting and equally controversial. In Alternate Energy Corp. v. Redstone, 328 F. Supp. 1379 (S.D. Fla. 2004), the court held that the sale of online subscriptions was not a sufficient basis to create personal jurisdiction in online libel cases.

The court applied the Internet jurisdiction test set forth in Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119, 1124 (W.D. Pa. 1997), which held that engaging in commercial activity over the Internet constitutes sufficient minimum contacts to satisfy due-process requirements, but that posting information on the Internet does not. In Alternate Energy, the court noted that “the Fifth Circuit has held that selling subscriptions to view an informational website does not constitute sufficient commercial activity to invoke jurisdiction under Zippo for a defamation action, when the cause of action arises out of the information posted on the site. Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467 (5th Cir. 2002).

The court held that because the cause of action did not arise out of the solicitation of subscriptions, the defendant’s solicitation activity could not give rise to jurisdiction.” 328 F. Supp. 2d at 1382. The court held that “selling subscriptions to an internet site to an unknown, relatively small number of Florida residents, without more, does not constitute carrying on a business in Florida. . .and does not constitute the commission of a tortious act in Florida . . . .”

The case law is split on the proper test for jurisdiction in Internet-based defamation cases. This issue is of considerable importance, because if simply publishing on the Internet triggers jurisdiction in any country where content is read, Web site owners and Internet publishers will need to “dumb down” their content in order to satisfy the laws of the most stringent jurisdictions or else face lawsuits that could lead to judgments that would put them out of business. For now, the lesson is this: If you operate an interactive Web site, you are submitting yourself to the possibility of having to defend lawsuits in distant jurisdictions, both in the United States and abroad.”

Source Article “Doing Business on the Web: Jurisdiction Over Interactive Websites by Jere M. Webb.

Because Facebook and Twitter posts are in the public domain, the ability to regulate it and to put it under surveillance is reduced. Morever, governments have access to some “private” data which scares many users.

Facebook allows automatic information sharing that users are not aware of. Timeline, a feature that maps everything a user has ever done on Facebook and Open Graph, an application designed “to broadcast a user’s surfing patterns and Web interests to friends and friends of friends.” There is a loss of user control combined with a lack of ability for consumers to control and protect their online reputations.

Laura Antonini, research attorney at Consumer Watchdog, says Facebook’s new sharing features “disregard the privacy of its users by making sweeping changes that expose personal information without giving users the chance to choose what information they want shared with the world.”

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes counters that Timeline and new Open Graph applications are” intended to make it easier for users to share music and other content with their friends.” He explains that Facebook uses tracking-cookie technology to monitor and correlate users’ Web activities, just as Google and other online ad networks and analytics firms commonly do. He says Facebook does so responsibly. Noyes declared “we offer numerous controls both before and after the fact” […] “all the sharing is opt-in and easily controllable.”

Mike Murray, managing partner of MAD Security, Facebook will not stop using this policy and may worsen. “The settings that are default today may not be in the future,” says Murray. “What we’ve seen from Facebook over the years is a constant, creeping advance in the amount of tracking that is done.”

Facebook has also raised fresh security concerns. New mechanisms to encourage the sharing of educational information, career and health have been promoted on Facebook.


Issues related to Internet privacy have become increasingly important. Netizens (or citizens or the net) are less anonymous than they think while surfing on Internet, blogging or even sharing images with their friends on Facebook.

A study made by the Montreal Gazette highlights these privacy violations. It shows how most high-traffic websites such as Google, Facebook, comScore and Quantcast looked at in the study, share the netizen’s username and user ID with other sites.

Jon Leibowitz,in a speech “Consumer Privacy, the FTC, and the Rise of the Cyberazzi” given in Washington, D.C. October 11, 2011, the U.S Federal Trade Commission chairman declared that this study would help the protection of netizens and their privacy on the Internet. He liked behavioral advertising and date collection to paparazzi “cyberazzi.”

The study’s author, Jonathan Mayer, a graduate Stanford student, noted that 61% of the websites he interacted used information leakage (username and ID.)

“Many times, developers are not thinking about privacy issues, and it’s a fact of life that information is going to leak to third parties. I think we have to recognize that’s just the way the web works,” said Mayer.

Mayer created accounts for sites and then tracked where the information went. On the Photobucket, a photo sharing databank, his study found that a username was sent to 31 other websites. Asked how consumers could avoid such data leakage, Mayer said, “The best thing they can do is to block advertising, because the moment content is loaded on the browser, there is a risk of tracking.”

“The study found that signing up on the NBC website shared a user’s e-mail address with seven other companies, while viewing a local ad on the Home Depot website sent a user’s name and e-mail address to 13 companies. Leibowitz applauded Microsoft Corp, Mozilla and Apple for adding “do not track” features to their browsers and said he hoped Google would soon follow suit. He added the FTC had no intention of ending behavioural advertising, but was advocating giving consumers streamlined and effective choices about the collection and use of their data.”


This is a link to a video of Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, talking about the international bloggers network, its reach and impact, and some of its programs, including Rising Voices and Global Voices Advocacy.

In China, media outlets and the Internet are censored. “Human rights should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any nation.”

Mr Obama said that freedom of information, including open access to the internet, was important. In a speech and open question session with Chinese students, President Obama explained his concerns.

“That makes our democracy stronger because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear – it forces me to examine what I’m doing,” he said.

He said “the internet was a powerful tool to mobilise people and had helped him win the presidency last year.”

This visit had however only small coverage in Chinese media.

On November 1st a global conference on Internet Freedom was organized in London.

“Britain and the United States strongly rejected calls from China and Russia for greater Internet controls. While Western states worry about intellectual property theft and hacking, authoritarian governments are alarmed at the role the Internet and social media played in the protests that swept the Arab world this year.”

This two days talk was attended by government officials, NGOS, tech firms and security experts as well as bloggers. Britain’s Foreing Secretary William Hague opened the conference he said “the social and economic benefits of the Internet were huge and warned that any states trying to block online activity would lose out.”

“We must aspire to a future for cyberspace which is not stifled by government control or censorship, but where innovation and competition flourish and investment and enterprise are rewarded.”

Hague warned “that human rights, particularly the right to privacy and freedom of expression, should carry full force online”.

Biden echoed Hague, saying that while the Internet presented opportunities for wrongdoing “on a vast scale” from terrorism to human trafficking, child pornography to attacks on government systems, they were no excuse for censorship.

“What citizens do online should not, as some have suggested, be decreed solely by groups of governments making decisions for them somewhere on high […] No citizen of any country should be subject to a repressive global code when they send an email or post a comment to a news article. They should not be prevented from sharing their innovations with global consumers simply because they live across a national frontier. That is not how the Internet should ever work in our view.” Joe Biden

“To impose such controls on the Internet, would stifle innovation. If countries wanted the economic benefits of connectivity, he they needed openness.” Biden

The West hopes to influence mainly China and Russia in the fight against hackers and to sign a “cyber treaty.”

“Around 60 countries, including China, Russia and India, were represented at the conference as well as tech industry figures such as Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and senior executives from Facebook and Google.”

Check out the complete videos of the London Conference on Cyberspace


On January 21st, 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech on Internet freedom and security. She stressed the impact of Chinese censorship policies. She warned how Internet could be used by some repressive governments to “crush dissent and deny human rights.”

In her speech, she promised funding to organizations promoting Internet freedom. The speech explored the entire issue of Internet freedom not only Chinese Internet censorship issues. It was however clear that China was a major element of the critics from a statement made by Google and the swift support it received from the US government. Google has recently expressed its wish to stop self-censoring its Chinese service.

The US secretary of state sees Internet access as key to America’s promotion of democracy abroad. Clinton is ready to make internet freedom a policy priority.