One Net, One Law?

The Hague Convention on Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments has been brewing since 1992 and it could have some ostensibly disastrous impacts on the Net if ratified.

The Convention aims to delineate global rules for cross-border litigation and set new rules for online copyrights, free speech and e-commerce.

Requiring participants to agree to enforce each others’ laws on a variety of topics, the Convention has many opponents. Thus far its most outspoken adversaries are librarians, online stores, global ISPs, consumer groups, and free speech activists who are concerned that the Convention will do far more than solve the complicated legal issues surrounding a borderless Web.

Free-speech advocates are concerned that, if ratified, the Convention would force all global Web sites — regardless of their origin — to conform to the most suffocating and narrow free-speech laws, such as those of, say, China.

Under the aegis of the Convention, countries with more strict requirements may be allowed to crack down on ISPs (regardless of their country of origin) on the basis of their customers’ content. ISP’s, therefore, are concerned that the treaty will effectively require them to act as Internet content police, scouring the Web to make sure sites they host don’t break the laws of any convention member country.

The Corporate world is equally troubled that the Convention, if endorsed, could upset e-commerce because it would ostensibly force Web infrastructure companies to monitor every transmission that moves over their networks.

“People don’t realize what a disaster this could be,” said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, claiming that the Convention aims to regulate all software, not just the free kind.

“In a nutshell, it will strangle the Internet with a suffocating blanket of overlapping jurisdictional claims, expose every Web page publisher to liabilities for libel, defamation and other speech offences from virtually any country, (and) effectively strip Internet service providers of protections from litigation over the content they carry,” said Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology.
“We have to stop it.”

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