Who Rules the Net? Internet Governance and Jurisdiction

By Adam Thierer; Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. | Go to book overview
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Be Careful What You Ask For:
Reconciling a Global Internet and
Local Law
Jonathan Zittrain

We used to speak accurately of the Internet, a single logical network of entities only a click away from each other, no matter how distant in physical space. That was certainly the ambitious intention of those who designed it; they sought to integrate lots of existing little networks, running on a variety of physical media, into a coherent whole.

They succeeded, and the resulting network and corresponding protocols absorbed almost every other more localized or proprietized network design effort. A globalized Internet running on open protocols meant that users could disregard both their own physical location and that of anyone they traded bits with; an occasional slow-to-respond (even while lightly trafficked) Web site might be the only betrayal of physical distance online for the average user. Web site operators, in turn, embraced the idea that setting up a single site would expose its contents to the entire Internet-connected populace, wherever it might be geographically found.

This cherished fact of Internet life promptly spawned a complementary set of problems loosely categorized as “jurisdictional.” At their core lay the fact that perceived serious harm—to one's reputation, digital property, peace of mind, or computer network—could now easily originate at a distance and follow a path in between accuser and accused that traversed the physical territories of any number of sovereigns. As Internet usage has gone mainstream, the problems arising from harm-at-a-distance have intensified in tandem with the ranks of those feeling injury. Individuals complaining of libel or fraud are joined by corporations worried about stock manipulation and domain name cybersquatting, as well as governments anxious about citizens purchasing faraway goods effectively exempt

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