Belgium Fines Yahoo For Protecting User Privacy On Its US Servers
from the this-is-bad... dept
For many years, we’ve discussed the many challenges faced by countries in trying to recognize that “jurisdiction” on the internet isn’t what they probably think it is. Many countries want to interpret internet jurisdiction as “if it’s accessible here via the internet, it’s covered by our laws.” But it doesn’t take much scenario planning to recognizing what a disaster would result from such an interpretation. Effectively that means that the most restrictive legislation anywhere in the world (think: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.) would apply everywhere else.
That’s why it’s quite worrisome to find out that Belgium is trying to fine Yahoo for protecting its users’ privacy and refusing to hand over user data to Belgian officials. Yahoo noted, accurately, that it does not have any operation in Belgium, and the data in question was held on US servers, not subject to Belgian law. On top of that, the US and Belgium have a good diplomatic relationship, such that such a data request could have gone through established diplomatic channels to make sure that US laws were properly obeyed as well. But, instead, Belgian officials just demanded the info from Yahoo’s US headquarters directly, and then took the company to criminal court where the judge issued the fine. The Center for Democracy & Technology highlights the problems of not pushing back against this ruling:
The implications of this ruling are profound and far-reaching. Following the court’s logic would subject user data associated with any service generally available online to the jurisdiction of all countries. It would also subject all companies that offer services generally available on the global Internet to the laws of all jurisdictions, potentially exposing individual employees to a variety of criminal sanctions.
The U.S. government should be paying close attention here: To understand how problematic this ruling is, we need only imagine how the governments of China, Iran, Vietnam or other repressive regime of your choice may decide that the precedent set here is one well worth following. Such actions undermine Belgium’s moral authority since, after all, it would only be hypocritical for Western democracies to criticize such radically overbroad assertions of jurisdiction by other nations.
CDT suggests the US government should get involved and protest the Belgian court ruling:
In the present case, Yahoo! has done right by its users. The company asked law enforcement officials to follow established diplomatic and legal processes in order to gain access to user information. It also enlisted the support of its home government to facilitate the process. In return, Belgian authorities have flouted an existing MLAT agreement, slapped Yahoo! with a fine, and set a dangerous precedent that potentially imperils the privacy of all Internet users and invites abuse by bad actors.