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Can Countries Shut Down Websites Worldwide?


Does the rights of a court stop at the waters edge? When it comes to world wide web freedoms, that’s the billion dollar question currently being contested in court in British Columbia, Canada.





B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon issued a temporary injunction on 13 June against Google Inc., to block a group of websites from worldwide search results. Google is currently appealing the injunction and is ‘disappointed’ in the ruling.


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This unprecedented ruling, which some have described as a major legal overreach by the BC Supreme Court, started when Burnaby, B.C.-based Equustek Solutions Inc., which sells industrial networking devices to enterprise clients, sought to block the trading activities of former associates. The defendants in the case had allegedly stole trade secrets, selling imitation devices through a series of websites, in “flagrant” disregard for non-compete clauses and previous court orders.


Google will block websites, if given sufficient cause, from national search results. Which means Equustek Solutions Inc. could have websites blocked from Google.ca. But they argued this isn’t sufficient, which given the fact that anyone can run a website from any country, the idea of “local” search results is something of a misnomer. The Internet doesn’t stop at the waters edge.

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This is especially true of web based businesses, who can have customers from around the world, coming in from numerous “local” search engines and social networks.  


Can a BC Court Have Jurisdiction Over a Californian Company?


Or for that matter, if this judgement is upheld on appeal; can any court claim worldwide jurisdiction on any website, regardless of the physical location of the company in question? That’s what is really at stake here.


Justice Fenlon called Google an “innocent bystander but it is unwittingly facilitating the defendants’ ongoing breaches of this Court’s orders.”


However, she did claim the BC court had jurisdiction over the Mountain View, California based internet giant on the basis that Google Inc. sells ads in BC, with their search algorithms specifically targeting BC citizens. In the same way it does in every territory it operates.

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What About Beyond BC?


University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, while acknowledging the courts jurisdiction, fears free speech implications. It isn’t over who’s right in this fight, but “what happens if a Russian court orders Google to remove gay and lesbian sites from its database? Or if Iran orders it remove Israeli sites from the database?”


This follows on from the European Union Court of Justice “right to be forgotten” which forces Google in Europe to take down search results if asked. Will this BC ruling weaken Google’s ability to dictate what it does or doesn’t show?


Should Google lose the appeal, this will set a precedent. The first, but probably not the last, not after the EU ruling as well. Since public cloud companies operate within the same legal realm as Google Inc., this could easily impact the likes of Box, Dropbox, Microsoft and others who store our private data and secure documents.


Is the only answer to encrypt what’s precious to us in the private cloud? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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