The internet of course traverses the globe and one of the difficulties in this scale is the problems of laws and the jurisdiction of law. After all calling the Thai Royal family names might be illegal in Thailand, but it certainly isn’t in Chicago. All over the world there are hugely different laws, rules and regulations which cover people in specific countries but are difficult to apply over the internet.
One of the simplest implementations is that the law applies to your physical location and using the internet is not the issue. So for example if you go online in France then French laws should be applied irrespective of your nationality. This is generally the case and corresponds with all other laws which are normally applied by physical location.
However this does open lots of loopholes, for instance any country with minimal internet and cyber laws could be used as a base for legal ‘criminal’ operations. This is a real issue as if you are the victim of cyber crime it’s highly unlikely that the criminal lives in the same country as you. There are other less extreme issues, for example the whole area of copyright law is to be honest a complete mess online.
Take for instance a movie producer, they can license their film to be broadcast on a per country basis. However when that film is broadcast over the internet perhaps on an entertainment site where is the license applicable? Is it in the country of the web site or perhaps the location in which the movie is being watched – there is no definitive answer.
This means that it is perfectly possible to watch UK TV online in USA for example despite all the British TV channels being restricted to the UK. Even thought the companies try to stop this, all the user has to do is to hide their true location by switching IP address and they can watch what they like. It doesn’t matter what terms and conditions that the entertainment put on their site as these will have different meaning depending on what country you are in. The technology usually used to switch virtual locations are VPNs and proxies however these are important tools in all sorts of areas and have a legitimate place online.
Many people rely on Virtual Private network connections to bypass government and state oppression online. For example even somewhere relatively democratized such as Turkey have banned and filtered sites based on religion, sexuality and female rights. Using a VPN is the simplest way to bypass these restrictions. They also provide a level of protection for people who try and use such sites from their governments. No political activist in a place like Iran, China or Turkey would last long without protecting their identity online by the encryption provided from a proper VPN.
So it can be seen that the level of internet filtering spreads right across the world. Much of it is simply there to protect commercial interests and companies like the BBC attempt to block VPNs routinely like this post illustrates. Much more though filters and blocks normally seek to restrict free speech and the right to protest. Many oppressive regions seek to either block social media sites or worse they monitor and use them for covert surveillance.
Whatever the situation having the ability to protect yourself and your identity online is an important civil liberty in this author’s opinion.