The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School is a leader in the study of the law and policy around the Internet and other emerging technologies.
Whether and when communications platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook are liable for their users’ online activities is one of the key factors that affects innovation and free speech. Most creative expression today takes place over communications networks owned by private companies. Governments around the world increasingly press intermediaries to block their users’ undesirable online content in order to suppress dissent, hate speech, privacy violations and the like. One form of pressure is to make communications intermediaries legally responsible for what their users do and say. Liability regimes that put platform companies at legal risk for users’ online activity are a form of censorship-by-proxy, and thereby imperil both free expression and innovation, even as governments seek to resolve very real policy problems.
In the United States, the core doctrines of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have allowed these online intermediary platforms user generated content to flourish. But, immunities and safe harbors for intermediaries are under threat in the U.S. and globally as governments seek to deputize intermediaries to assist in law enforcement.
To contribute to this important policy debate, CIS studies international approaches to intermediary obligations concerning users’ copyright infringement, defamation, hate speech or other vicarious liabilities, immunities, or safe harbors; publishes a repository of information on international liability regimes and works with global platforms and free expression groups to advocate for policies that will protect innovation, freedom of expression, privacy and other user rights.
Earlier today, the European Court of Justice released its long-awaited decision in Google Spain. The ECJ ruled that "an internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties.” Thus, under certain circumstances, search engines can be asked to remove links to webpages containing personal data.
On April 23, 2014, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff enacted the country’s long awaited Internet Bill of Rights, locally known as “Marco Civil da Internet”.
First introduced to the legislature in 2011, the bill was finally approved by Congress and submitted to the Senate in late March this year, after long public debate and several failed attempts of having it voted through the Congressional House. Read more about Brazil Leads the Efforts in Internet Governance with its Recently Enacted "Marco Civil da Internet". What’s in it for Intermediary Liability?
Today the Fourth Circuit refrained from deciding the first legal challenge to government seizure of the master encryption keys that secure our communications with web sites and email servers. Nevertheless, the Court upheld contempt of court sanctions, because of the Lavabit owner’s foot dragging during proceedings. Lavabit had failed to raise the substantive issues below, it decided, thus precluding appellate review. Read more about Fourth Circuit Upholds Contempt Against Lavabit, Doesn’t Decide Gov’t Access to Encryption Keys
Retrospect is the monthly newsletter of the Internet & Jurisdiction Project - a global multi-stakeholder dialogue process that explores the tension between the cross-border nature of the Internet and national jurisdictions. Every month, the members of the Internet & Jurisdiction Observatory expert network identify the 20 most relevant cases through a progressive filtering process to inform the participants of the Internet & Jurisdiction Project on emerging trends around the world. Read more about March 2014 in Retrospect: Intermediary Liability News and More from the Internet and Jurisdiction Project