Governments Around The World Want To Require Local Employees Of Internet Firms, So They Have People To Jail
from the not-a-good-trend dept
One of the earliest themes on Techdirt, going back decades, is the difficulty of jurisdiction on the internet that easily crosses nearly all geographical borders. We wrote a post back in 2002 raising the question of how is it possible to enforce local laws on a borderless internet. Of course, that hasn’t meant that various countries haven’t tried — either trying to issue global injunctions or going even more extreme. One preferred idea is to just jail the employees of a company who happen to be in the country that wants content blocked. Over the years we’ve seen that happen (or attempt to happen) in Italy, Brazil, and recently India.
For many companies, the best way to deal with this is to avoid having any employees in those countries where such threats are likely to happen. There’s a reason Google pulled employees out of Russia, for example.
But now that various countries seem to enjoy the ability to jail random employees of internet companies who won’t do they’re bidding, they’re moving to pass laws to require local employees if a company wants to operate in that country. In many cases, these seem to be fairly transparent attempts to make sure that the government has hostages it can threaten to jail should the company not suppress content in the way its leaders wish.
What’s particularly nefarious about this, is that these generally authoritarian countries are able to “defend” these laws on the same basis as (mostly European) countries demanded data localization laws, saying that data on local citizens needed to be kept within that country to protect their information from — say — snooping NSA eyes and ears.
Legislation requiring in-country representatives and local data storage already exists in Germany, where it was designed to address issues like hate speech. But experts say in countries that have a history of cracking down on internet freedoms, similar laws could be used to intimidate or threaten staff at social media companies. The regulations are already in place or are being considered in Brazil, Poland, India, Turkey, Vietnam, and Pakistan and could further erode free expression on the internet around the world.
Jason Pielemeier, policy director of the Global Network Initiative, an organization that promotes free expression online, has nicknamed the regulations ?hostage-taking laws,? because they could be used to detain workers from social media platforms if they refuse to take government orders. ?I think it?s less likely about threatening to shoot someone,? Pielemeier said. ?It?s more about ?We?re going to take their liberty away.??
The whole article linked above is really good in detailing just how sketchy these laws really are — yet how the countries are trying to “justify” them by saying they’re no different than data localization or content moderation laws in countries like Germany:
Turkish lawmakers helped justify the law by pointing to similar regulations in Germany, though Akdeniz believes the country is really taking cues from Russia, which recently throttled Twitter following massive protests. First passed in 2017, Germany?s notorious Network Enforcement Law (NetzDG) compels social media companies to swiftly remove illegal content or face exorbitant fines. Like many of the laws currently being considered, it also requires that social media platforms with more than 2 million users in Germany appoint a local German representative. ?To convince people in countries like Turkey, it?s always better to say, ?We are only doing what Germany?s doing,?? said Akdeniz.
Over the past few years, a number of countries have used NetzDG as inspiration for their own efforts to curb online freedoms, according to a report from the human rights think tank Justitia. ?In a global free speech race to the bottom, the NetzDG matrix has been copy-pasted by authoritarian states to provide cover and legitimacy for digital censorship and repression,? wrote Jacob Mchangama, the founder of Justitia and a co-author of the report.
This is really important — especially as we enter a time when people in the US are pushing the message that since other countries have stricter content moderation laws, it’s no problem to have them in the US. This ignores how governments use and abuse these laws to shut down important and valuable speech (often speech from marginalized groups that is critical of the government).