According to the Economist:
SUPPOSE FBI agents were to break into the postbox of an American company in Dublin to seize letters which might help them convict an international drug dealer. There would be general uproar, if not a transatlantic crisis. But that is essentially what the FBI wants to happen, albeit in the virtual realm: it has asked a court to order Microsoft, in its capacity as a big e-mail provider, to hand over messages from a suspect in a drugs case which are stored in a data centre in Ireland. On September 9th an appeals court in New York will hear oral arguments on whether Microsoft has to comply.
The case has many wrinkles … But at the core of the case is one of the most knotty legal questions in the age of cloud computing: how to give law-enforcement agencies access to evidence when laws remain national, but data are often stored abroad and sometimes even at multiple places at once?
This article rightfully brings up conflicts in law in the Internet arena within the West. Over the last few years, certain very public and passionate debates have flared up with Europe and the U.S. regarding privacy, right to delete, and censorship on the Internet.
A few years ago, as early as 2008, when I noticed Google Streetview growing to incorporate the streets of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Asian regions, I realized that everyone there simply took it for granted that it’s ok. What Google did must be the right, enlightened, and forward-thinking.
It was only until the Germans (as early 2008) fought back and led Europe to articulate an ideology that pushes back to say that Google does not have an unfettered right to take street pictures of every society that citizens around the world began to doubt and fight back against Google (albeit often unsuccessfully)…
The world is better because the Europeans fought back.
Today, real disagreements exist on how cloud data should be used and handled. But importantly, the real fighters are still the Europeans and Americans, the rest of the world still just goes along for the ride.
Imagine if it were the Chinese who had first fought back about privacy – they would be ridiculed to no end as backwards, authoritarian, etc, as they have been regarding censorship. Today, all major American companies operating in Europe – Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and others – comply with censorship laws of nations in which they operate 1. They do so in India and Australia and other nations as well … yet China is still upheld as the epitome of the Dark Empire (as opposed to FREE World).
Censorship and all these Internet policies is about vague values and norms … and ultimately politics. I don’t see any basic right or wrong or human rights about these, but it’s cast as that. It’s double-speak and hypocritical.
Microsoft may fight back against an FBI request here and there – for publicity’s sake – but when push come to shove, if true national security issues arise, the government will always win, and the law will always bend (if it’s not the courts going along with the government then it will be clandestine operations by the FBI or other operations to force these companies to hand over information). The disclosures the last few years prompted by Edward Snowden’s original disclosures showed us at least that.
The Economist suggested that the proper way for the U.S. to extend its reach to European allies is for European and Americans to draft a treaty of mutual cooperation. That’s probably a better way than the U.S. arm-wrestling its companies to comply to its will regardless of other nations’ laws, but whatever policy the West shall agree amongst itself, let’s make no mistake that they will write the rules according to their interests and values (values shaped by their interests, of course).
The bickering among Western power can create much welcomed breathing space for the rest of the world. But when will the rest of the world speak up? When will they shape the world with their own values? When will they at least concede that there is no such thing as a Free Internet, only enclaves of Internets, and that the Free Internet appears “Free” because the Internet is dominated by the West and currently conforms to the values of the West?
- See, e.g., http://www.rt.com/news/173308-hidden-censorship-forgotten-google/, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/twitter-censorship/, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/google-censorship/, http://mashable.com/2013/04/25/google-government-censorship/#.NS_7MJoEOkp, ↩
- Some may argue for encryption where the private key is held locally at each computer, but even then, assuming the implementation is perfect, the cloud would be dumb, as the data stored would be encrypted. That’s is what most people have in mind when they talk about cloud computing. ↩