Internet Without Frontiers Poses Problem For Courts

The world wide web is throwing up some interesting problems for governments and the law as a new media order ignores national borders.

Governments and legal systems operate within these well-defined lines on the ground which neatly divide one country from another.

But the internet draws no such distinction and operates freely across any border.

In the UK, this has shown up in an appeal to the Supreme Court by a well-known entertainer whose partner is alleged to have had sexual activity with multiple partners.

The ridiculous situation is that media based in England and Wales cannot identify the entertainer or the partner because of a High Court gagging order, while media based elsewhere are not bound by the ruling.

Sordid details

So, anyone looking in the right – or wrong place – from the UK can read all the sordid details without suffering any penalty.

Even worse, if a media group owns and outlet in Scotland and another in London, the same staff can reveal the details in the north, while they can say nothing in the southern edition.

Twitter and Facebook have hundreds of posts about the entertainer, but are facing a wider debate about infringing the personal freedom of their users.

Twitter has cancelled a contract with the US government to provide alerts about tweets that could be of interest to the intelligence community.

The company has made no comment about the move.

One reason could be whistleblowing such as Edward Snowden’s WikiLeaks and the more recent Panama Papers are stirring a backlash against businesses that intrude on privacy by selling data to governments.

Spooks get your browsing history

The Twitter move also stops several intermediary companies dead from mining the web site’s data for intelligence. An alternative explanation is Twitter has seen this market and wants to carve a niche to make money for shareholders rather than let other firms exploit the data.

Britain and the US are also advancing legislation to allow government spooks full access to email, browsing histories and mobile phone data of millions of web users mostly without a whimper from anyone.

If and most probably when these new laws come into force, social media networks will have to hand over their data to GCHQ in Britain and intelligence services in the US regardless of what their service agreements with consumers say.

George Orwell was right – Big Brother is certainly watching you.