Elon University

The Rule of Law and the Internet – Is the Online World Different From the Offline One?

ISOC 20th Anniversary LogoBrief session description:

Monday, April 23, 2012 – The Internet is borderless, raising new challenges in regard to law. Some governments and stakeholders have called for new national and international regimes to facilitate a better system for dealing with crimes committed online. Others believe that since most online crimes are or can be criminalized under laws that were created for crimes in the offline world, that current laws are sufficient. Session participants were asked to explore: 1) The differences between criminal acts that are unique to Internet environments and those that are shared with the offline world. 2) The appropriate roles to be played by nongovernmental actors in enforcing laws. 3) How to avoid suppressing basic principles of the law, due process and human rights in the effort to police the Internet. 4) How international and transnational cooperation could lead to a system that keeps the Internet democratic and accountable.

      Details of the session:

      Session moderator was Alun Michael, member of the United Kingdom Parliament. Panelists were: Brian Cute, CEO for .ORG, the Public Interest Registry; Bertrand de La Chapelle, director of Academie Diplomatique Internationale, Paris; Olof Ehrenkrona, ambassador to the Swedish minister for foreign affairs; Andrei Kolesnikov, CEO of the coordination center for TLD .RU; Frank La Rue, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression; Joy Liddicoat, councilor for the Generic Names Supporting Organisation at ICANN; Lucy Lynch, director of trust and identity initiatives for the Internet Society; Jimson Olufuye, CEO of Kontemporary, based in Nigeria; Karine Perset, Internet policy analyst for OECD.

      “Welcome to the new world,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, CEO of the top-level domain .RU, when he was asked about the lack of privacy today.

      ISOC Group Photo“Welcome to the new world” could also be used to sum up the session. Welcome to a world where the Internet is seen as a disruptive force that is at times in tension with the standing rule of law; a world where no one knows how far the law should go or where the boundaries are.

      Alun Michael, a member of the United Kingdom Parliament and moderator of the session, started off the afternoon with an overall purpose for the panelists.

      “We will try to define the extent to which the online world is different to the offline world, and that it is different,” Michael said.

      While a consensus on the definition between the online world and the offline never came to light during the session, the panelists did come to a consensus that there is very little that is totally different offline from online.

      Michael asked each panelist to give one example of a unique criminal act that takes place online now.

      “I don’t believe that there is an example, I have not been convinced that there are really unique, new, bad acts that take place on the Internet for which the law does not already have an analogue or a prescription for,” said Brian Cute, CEO of the Public Interest Registry.

      Many panelists agreed with Cute, saying that when it comes to the law and the Internet, the bigger problem is not what the criminal acts are but how laws might be enforced for crimes that take place online.

      ISOC Bertrand Speaking“I think the main changes are probably related less to the things people do on the Internet then to the way we address those problems,” said Bertrand de La Chapelle, director of Academic Dipolmatique Internationale.

      This belief was echoed by Olaf Ehrenkrona, ambassador and senior advisor to the Swedish minster for foreign affairs, who said one of the big issues to tackle is that there is no jurisdiction for the Internet because it is everyone’s space.

      Joy Liddicoat, councilor of the Generic Names Supporting Organisation at ICANN, GNSO and NCSG, went even farther stating that it is not just the laws that do not change according to one being online or offline, but human rights do not either.

      “If we need to create new paradigms for rights and freedoms, then it is a sign that we have failed,” Liddicoat said.

      Two types of crime more prevalent online than offline were pinpointed: encryption and anonymity. The panelists pointed out that even these crimes are not exclusive to the Internet, but it is easier for them to take place in the online world because of the speed and scope of the Internet.

      ISOC Jimson Speaking“In the offline world where we are in, surely we have the same crimes committed in the online world as well,” said Jimson Olufuye, CEO of Kontemporary. “In the offline world you can only be one place at a time, in the online world you can be many places, on many platforms, all at the same time.”

      All advancements in technology have advanced the speed and scope of content from the commonly used technology before it, starting with the printing press.

      “Now the main difference is the speed, scope and the now interactive form of communication,” said Frank La Rue, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. “This gives the Internet immense power, but it also causes fear.”

      If criminal acts that are committed over the Internet are the same acts that are criminalized in courts for physical acts, should they be treated the same?

      Even this question is not a new one for the government to address. It is similar to transborder suits in the physical world. Michael said he had to deal with a similar question 34 years ago in Parliament when he participated in a debate about where a British citizen who committed child abuse abroad could be prosecuted.

      De La Chappelle said he does not differentiate between the two worlds, so he does not see this as a transborder problem.

      “Actually there is no difference between the online world and the physical world,” de La Chapelle said. “It’s just that our physical world is digitized and that our lives are taking place in a physical place, but through intermediation as well.”

      The online laws that the panelists said they see as beneficial are those that protect already established human rights and freedoms.

      Liddicoat Speaking ISOC“There are very clear responsibilities that states have coming out of international rights standards such as prohibiting any language on the Internet inciting genocide and child pornography,” La Rue said.

      But Liddicoat said although people might have the same rights and freedoms on and offline this does not mean that governments should use the same forms of law enforcement in both venues.

      The discussion of examples of human rights infringements and the laws that serve to protect the people led the panelists to touch on some situations in which the effort to protect people can lead to potential censorship.

      “Korea has a blacklist of websites, a blacklist of websites that are malware infection,” said Karine Perset, an Internet policy analyst at OECD. “So it’s asking Korean ISPs to block those websites that are going to affect the average computer. Is that censorship or not censorship?”

      While no direct answer was given for this question or others that brought up specific examples, the panelists seemed to go back to one set of standards: the values of a community.

      “The one thing I would like everyone to take away from this is community norms,” said Lucy Lynch, director of trust and identity initiatives at the Internet Society. “For people to acknowledge and act with one another on a basis of understanding values of the community. The Internet is a community.”

      – Reporter: Rebecca Smith

      Return to home page for Imagining the Internet’s
      coverage of the Global INET Conference 2012
      Imagining the Internet Home
      Internet Society Home Page

      Twitter Logo A selection of Twitter Reports from this ISOC 20th event:

      Andrei Kolesnikov: “Lack of privacy—welcome to the new world”#ISOC 20 #GlobalINET

      Brian Cute: “I have not been convinced that there are really unique new bad acts that take palce on the Internet” #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET

      Question being asked in Law & Internet session: Are there crimes that are unique to the online world? #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET

      Want to learn more about the moderator of the Law & Internet? Here is Rt. Hon Alun Michael’s blog #ISOC 20

      Participants & panelists ask if there should be different off-line and on-line worlds and separate laws for them. #ISOC 20 #GlobalINET

      @harryhalpin Is Offline and Online law the same: If pirating files = copying VHS videos, piracy does not exist – Bertrand de La Chapelle #GlobalINET #ISOC

      @harryhalpin Clickjacking is like invading someone’s home – yet how does law cover that? #GlobalINET #ISOC

      @avri Joy: Storming around with the boots of repression its not upholding the rule of law by sovereign states. #globalinet

      @lion05 “We want to comply with the law but there has to be a respect for principles like due process and freedom of speech” Brian Cute #GlobalINET

      @avri Bertrand brings up the issue of cross border complexity of a multiplicity of conflicting laws. #globalinet

      The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at the Internet Society’s 20th Anniversary Global INET Conference included the following Elon University students, faculty, staff and friends: Jacquie Adams, Dan Anderson, Janna Anderson, Kacie Anderson, Nicole Chadwick, Jeff Flitter, Addie Haney, Brandon Marshall, Brian Meyer, Caitlin O’Donnell, Rachel Southmayd and Rebecca Smith.