Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ You Can't Regulate Inanimate Objects...

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Aug 25, 1997

Posted to HotWired 25 Aug 97

I liked the Brain Tennis format. First time I've seen it that way. The two frames back-and-forth approach worked for me.


The question is badly phrased. We should not ask whether the net should be regulated. The net is an inanimate object, and thus is not subject to the criminal code.

The question, of course, is whether people using the net should be regulated.

When we change our focus to people, the jurisdictional questions vanish. That is because every person has a geophysical location. Unless they are on the high seas (in which case, internet access is unreliable), they are an a particular political jurisdiction.

The government which can regulate a person is the jurisdiction in which the person is currently located.

So, now, let's imagine an author in Spain writing pornography which is placed on a server in Finland and read by a teenager in Pennsylvania.

The author is governed under Spanish laws, which may or may not say writing pornography is illegal. The server owner is governed by Finnish law, which may or may not say having and distributing pornography is illegal. The reader is governed under American, and specifically, Pennsylvania, law, which may or may not say reading pornography is illegal.

States or territories wanting their laws to apply in foreign jurisdictions will have to get agreement on this from those territories. While this is straightforward in theory (you ask them to prosecute on your behalf) it is not straightforward. Pennsylvania's law cannot apply in Canada without Canada's consent, and if it goes against Canada's interests, it won't give its consent.

While some multi-lateral agreement regarding internet conduct may evolve, don't look for it. Instead, expect to be governed by the laws of your own city, state, province, etc.


In the While I'm here department: how about a little consistency from the American government? Here we have a nation which routinely rails against other countries - Libya, for example, or Syria or Iran - for using terrorist tactics.

But over the last couple of months, eight bombs have exploded in Cuba. Anti-Castro groups based in Florida have admitted they set the bombs, and these groups act with American government compliance and encouragement.

Americans: see anything in your media about this? Of course not...

Should we now expect Cuban warplanes to launch a punitive strike on Washington in retaliation? That is how the U.S. handled Libya. Or perhaps Cuban forces should arrest Clinton and put him on trial, the way American troops arrested Noriega.

The concept of applying American "law" into other jursidictions is laughable and pathetic.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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