EU Politicians Realize US View Of De Facto Ownership Of The Internet Makes Their Data Protection Laws Irrelevant

from the jurisdictional-mess dept

One of the topics that we’ve discussed since the very beginning of Techdirt is the odd questions of jurisdiction raised by the internet. Pre-internet, most (though not all) jurisdiction questions where fairly straightforward: where was the alleged infraction/crime committed. Once you added the internet to the question, things got weird fast and no one seemed to really want to deal with it. Over the years, there have been some flareups here and there, but over the last couple of years, one thing has started to become clear: the US government feels that it has jurisdiction over much of the internet, even as it decries any other country that suggests something similar.

As we noted recently, folks, like Erik Barnett at Homeland Security, have a rather expansive view over why the US has jurisdiction over any website using a .com or .net domain name. And, of course, it goes way beyond that as well, with the recent admissions from Microsoft that EU data protection rules are effectively meaningless when faced with a US PATRIOT Act request for data. Basically, the US appears to claim that even if the data is stored in Europe, with strict data protection rules, if it’s a US company, the US believes it has jurisdiction and can demand access to it.

Not surprisingly, this is upsetting EU officials, who realize that their data protection rules may be effectively meaningless if the US continues to take this rather expansive view of its own jurisdiction.

While you can understand why US officials and law enforcement want to view the world this way, what stuns me is that they appear to be both totally tone deaf to how this makes the US look abroad, as well as oblivious to the obvious unintended consequences and likely counter moves to such a view. Not only does it give moral cover to other countries doing the same thing — potentially harming US interests significantly — it’s also going to lead to inevitable backlash and widespread harm to US companies and internet users, as users in foreign countries won’t go near their services.

This is what happens when you have people who can’t think more than single step ahead and put them in a position of power.

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Comments on “EU Politicians Realize US View Of De Facto Ownership Of The Internet Makes Their Data Protection Laws Irrelevant”

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James (profile) says:


It is extremely frustrating to people outside of the US to hear stories like this… I can understand why US officials might feel this way but I feel sometimes there is this sort of unwritten rule for US officials to just assume that they own the internet.

Imagine the huge back clash which would emerge if David Cameron suddenly decided to pass a law which meant that all US citizen’s internet connections were subject to UK jurisdiction just because Tim Berners-Lee is British

A Guy says:

I don’t understand the draw of “the cloud” anyway from a personal perspective. I understand why corporate and government types like the idea…

If you’re a worried European country, simply pass a law that all data must be stored in country and make any failure to secure the data from transport overseas or transfer to a new locale a felony with very stiff penalties including a right to sue by the violated users. Then make a law that makes continued operation by that company within its borders illegal once a breach occurs unless it is reported immediately to relevant authorities. I bet that punch in the economic gut would fix Microsoft’s patriot act problems quickly.

Chargone (profile) says:

ya know, this kind of massive over reach, claim of jurisdiction in other people’s areas, and general arrogant trampling of sovereignty in other lands… go have a look at history. this kinda thing has caused major wars over and over again. only thing that’s different here is that it’s the internet and even now the logistics of intercontinental war are… nightmareish.

out_of_the_blue says:

Or, the EU is playing "good" while secretly in cahoots with US.

I think it obvious that an overarching cabal of The Rich are controlling both, and even MOST of the world. You see it visible in UK-US military operations in several places that just happen to be oil-rich, and particularly of late in the NATO bombing of Libya. And Europe mostly stands idle while the US is exhausting its treasure to establish an empire with its military. When the US is broken from that — particularly its civil rights — then it can be brought down with endless debt and an “austerity” program just like Greece recently was, because “owe” massive debt to the same central banks.

So, first flaw is the false premise of “two” sides here. It’s just another show to have an appearance of conflict, no different from professional wrestling. The Rich ALL have interests against The People, though they might struggle for which group becomes Global Tyrants.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

I can understand the US demanding information stored over-seas by US companies… those companies are technically US citizens (thanks to ridiculous interpretations to the 14th Amendment long ago). So if they are citizens, should they be able to hide ‘incriminating’ information over-seas to escape the law? If I’m missing something, please do let me know.

Now that I’m done playing devil’s advocate… Of course the US is going to decry other companies exercising jurisdiction over the internet in their own countries… if they effectively control it, how can we? THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Honestly, I can’t wait until the US completes its campaign to run the rest of the world out of .com/.net, the rest of the world sets up its own .screwusa, and cuts us all effectively out of the loop.

After all, isn’t the general response to infection supposed to be isolation and termination?

Nicedoggy says:

Well if American companies can’t adhere to the rules of the land the USA just showed them how to proceed, charge every one of them with a crime, convict them and ask to extradite every American CEO to face jail in Europe for breaking their own rules, which probably means American companies will have to close offices in Europe so to not be liable.

The BRICS could also do something similar.
China in particular since it reached a point where they are no longer dependent on exports alone to grow, could mean a more assertive country on that front.

DannyB (profile) says:


I think you mean the world wide web not the internet.

The internet predates the web.

The web is an application that runs on the internet.

Email is an application that runs on the internet.

Telnet, SSH, FTP, Usenet, VNC, Bittorrent are applications (eg with their own protocols) that run on the internet. There are protocols that don’t have applications.

Some of us were using the internet before the web. The web did make the internet a household word and is now probably the primary application on the internet.

Richard (profile) says:


Correction: they devised the Internet’s key mechanism,

No the key mechanism (packet switching) was devised by Donald Davies at NPL in the UK – although there were also cotemporary research activities in the US. The truth is that no-one (person or nation) can really lay claim to having invented the internet – it was the work of many hands – and a lot of rather obvious ideas arrived at independently in different places!

Anonymous Coward says:

This comes of course after years of the EU trying to force it’s policies down everyone’s throats. Privacy policies on websites are often set to the highest standard (EU) to avoid any legal hassle.

Germany routinely bans websites and forces companies like Google to remove the sites from their search results. They reach out around the world with legal documents and summon websites owners to Germany to stand before commissions, which have the power to decide that a site is unfit. Oh yes, they do it for the children.

The EU folks look like idiots in this fight, because they are just getting back the sort of treatment they have dished out for a long time.

Anonymous Coward says:


“Comply with the US and get fucked up in Europe or comply with EU and get fucked up in the US.”

This was ARAMCO [Saudi Arabia’s Arabic American Oil Company] problem in the early 1970s.

Comply with US law governing employment rights especially women’s rights with head chop experiences in Arabia or satisfy Islamic Law and be sued into bankruptcy in the US. The conflict came to a head in the US oil crisis [not the cause of the crisis but the issue came to a head at the same time as the crisis]. The solution was to split the company in to two parts, a US company under US law located in Texas and a Saudi company under Islamic law in Arabia.

That is what is going to happen to the web. It will be broken up with only the US portion being under US law all others being under the law of their respective jurisdictions. This will of course have lots of negative effects on the free flow of information but it will allow countries like Australia to establish their perfect filter network by the simple means of sources eliminating all access to information not stored in Australia. Realizing that Australia is not nearly as bad as China is irrelevant as the issue is not size or filter ability but the acceptance of legal issues generated there in other countries and there the impact is big.

Anonymous Coward says:


“This wouldn’t happen if the US wasn’t some sort of megalomaniac thinking they own the world.”

Hmmm, I believe you’ve fallen into the misstep of national generalization. I, for example, do not share this belief despite being an american. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the majority of americans are not actually represented in any way by the actual policies and actions of our own government. A sad yet true fact unfortunately. The US is not represented in government by its constituency, it is instead simply a controlled “head” manipulated by big business. Additionally, our “democratic” process has no impact or bearing on governmental decisions due to the simple fact that politicians spin fact into emotional “bytes” in an attempt to placate the people while continuing to follow their coffer filling overlords in actual decision making.

/end rant/

Tim (profile) says:

Circles and Groups

So the US (Google+) creates a new Circle (Patriot Act) and is now happily adding countries to that Circle, whether those countries like it or not. No-one’s quite sure how it’s going to work out in the long-term, but it’s getting a tonne of attention at the moment.

The EU (Facebook) meanwhile has created a Group and is inviting all it’s neighbours, but not the US, because they only work with them…. Unfortunately most people don’t give a monkey’s about Groups and so all of this is likely to be ignored.

Then you have China (Twitter) wondering what all this fuss with groups/circles is about and just ploughing along as they were!

Anonymous Coward says:


In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the majority of americans are not actually represented in any way by the actual policies and actions of our own government.

Bull. You keep electing the same types over and over.

Additionally, our “democratic” process has no impact or bearing on governmental decisions due to the simple fact that politicians spin fact into emotional “bytes” in an attempt to placate the people while continuing to follow their coffer filling overlords in actual decision making.

Being “emotional” doesn’t really excuse how they vote.

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