Governments Around The World Want To Require Local Employees Of Internet Firms, So They Have People To Jail

from the not-a-good-trend dept

One of the earliest themes on Techdirt, going back decades, is the difficulty of jurisdiction on the internet that easily crosses nearly all geographical borders. We wrote a post back in 2002 raising the question of how is it possible to enforce local laws on a borderless internet. Of course, that hasn't meant that various countries haven't tried -- either trying to issue global injunctions or going even more extreme. One preferred idea is to just jail the employees of a company who happen to be in the country that wants content blocked. Over the years we've seen that happen (or attempt to happen) in Italy, Brazil, and recently India.

For many companies, the best way to deal with this is to avoid having any employees in those countries where such threats are likely to happen. There's a reason Google pulled employees out of Russia, for example.

But now that various countries seem to enjoy the ability to jail random employees of internet companies who won't do they're bidding, they're moving to pass laws to require local employees if a company wants to operate in that country. In many cases, these seem to be fairly transparent attempts to make sure that the government has hostages it can threaten to jail should the company not suppress content in the way its leaders wish.

What's particularly nefarious about this, is that these generally authoritarian countries are able to "defend" these laws on the same basis as (mostly European) countries demanded data localization laws, saying that data on local citizens needed to be kept within that country to protect their information from -- say -- snooping NSA eyes and ears.

Legislation requiring in-country representatives and local data storage already exists in Germany, where it was designed to address issues like hate speech. But experts say in countries that have a history of cracking down on internet freedoms, similar laws could be used to intimidate or threaten staff at social media companies. The regulations are already in place or are being considered in Brazil, Poland, India, Turkey, Vietnam, and Pakistan and could further erode free expression on the internet around the world.

Jason Pielemeier, policy director of the Global Network Initiative, an organization that promotes free expression online, has nicknamed the regulations “hostage-taking laws,” because they could be used to detain workers from social media platforms if they refuse to take government orders. “I think it’s less likely about threatening to shoot someone,” Pielemeier said. “It’s more about ‘We’re going to take their liberty away.’”

The whole article linked above is really good in detailing just how sketchy these laws really are -- yet how the countries are trying to "justify" them by saying they're no different than data localization or content moderation laws in countries like Germany:

Turkish lawmakers helped justify the law by pointing to similar regulations in Germany, though Akdeniz believes the country is really taking cues from Russia, which recently throttled Twitter following massive protests. First passed in 2017, Germany’s notorious Network Enforcement Law (NetzDG) compels social media companies to swiftly remove illegal content or face exorbitant fines. Like many of the laws currently being considered, it also requires that social media platforms with more than 2 million users in Germany appoint a local German representative. “To convince people in countries like Turkey, it’s always better to say, ‘We are only doing what Germany’s doing,’” said Akdeniz.

Over the past few years, a number of countries have used NetzDG as inspiration for their own efforts to curb online freedoms, according to a report from the human rights think tank Justitia. “In a global free speech race to the bottom, the NetzDG matrix has been copy-pasted by authoritarian states to provide cover and legitimacy for digital censorship and repression,” wrote Jacob Mchangama, the founder of Justitia and a co-author of the report.

This is really important -- especially as we enter a time when people in the US are pushing the message that since other countries have stricter content moderation laws, it's no problem to have them in the US. This ignores how governments use and abuse these laws to shut down important and valuable speech (often speech from marginalized groups that is critical of the government).

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: employees, governments, intimidation, localization, social media


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • icon
    Koby (profile), 19 May 2021 @ 11:47am

    The Price of Unaccountability

    If you're a country that isn't the United States, it seems impossible to argue against localization after everything the CIA/FBI/NSA has done. The actions of U.S. tech companies, combined with the spy agencies, have gotten too ugly for overseas citizens to defend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2021 @ 11:59am

    And then there's FATCA. If you are a Canadian dual citizen resident in Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency is compromising all of your personally identifiable information to the IRS. Why? The US taxes its citizens worldwide and doesn't quite grasp that Canada is not a tax haven, it's a tax hell. The same pattern of US interference in the domestic policymaking of other countries exists pretty much worldwide.

    By this logic, the citizens of the thirteen colonies are very much dual British or British Empire citizens and absolutely should be paying tax on all of that tea they're importing. Perhaps quartering redcoat soldiers in their homes without their consent in peacetime would make the picture a bit clearer to them. After all, if the US can attempt to apply its laws worldwide, so can every other nation and every other tinpot dictator.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2021 @ 12:06pm

    If there's anything positive to be seen about this, these measures may help lessen the usage of the dominant platforms, driving users to smaller, independently run services. Of course there would the problem of how to make it easily usable to appeal to many technically unversed users. You need a mobile app but there are the app store gatekeepers which again would be forced to have a local presence. F-Droid has this interesting feature where you can share APKs locally over WiFi. I can hear you already booing me down: F-Droid is neckbeard territory! No way it will ever appeal to many users! -- Yes, but take a look over to Cuba: https://fdroid.gitlab.io/fdroid-website/en/2017/07/03/cuba.html Having no or very few internet access over there, this local sharing method provides real value. I can imagine these new tyrannical government measures also raising the need for a decentralized exchange of apps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2021 @ 12:09pm

      F-Droid is fine if you're running Android, but it only takes one rotten Apple to spoil the barrel by taking away the right to sideload anything.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 19 May 2021 @ 12:39pm

    How would you like to be that employee?

    Johnny, after your latest bad performance review, we have decided to move you to our Indonesia office. Don't drop the soap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 May 2021 @ 1:30pm

    Yeah, this smacks of the whole CIA torture program, and of the UK Prime Minister sending goons to collect and smash some hard drives belonging to a news agency: Some aristocrats in government are angry due to recent events, and since some sense of justice (whether deserved or not) isn't forth coming, they want to hurt someone and so grab the nearest stranger that looks appropriate, whether Arab-looking Americans, or news agencies or bottom-rung employees of an internet service.

    Since the internet services in question are huge and already notoriously don't care much about their bottom-rung employees, it doesn't take much thought to realize this won't actually do anything to large businesses (but will hurt smaller ones who can't usually move their VIPs offshore anyway).

    It does illustrate how ours is still a world of plutocrats and peons, in which the former group still have folks in the latter group whipped for their enjoyment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2021 @ 7:20pm

      Re:

      I'd go one step further and say that they're not even going for looking appropriate. It sounds to me like they just want some outlet to inflict their petty vindictiveness on, if anything. It's all very much like trying to punish drug kingpins by jailing one or two runners out of an army of several hundred.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrui, 19 May 2021 @ 8:14pm

    who won't do they're bidding

    they're moving to

    One of these is wrong. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 19 May 2021 @ 8:21pm

    Government: Remove this content.

    Company: No.

    Government: Then we're going to arrest your employees in our local office.

    Company: What employees? We just fired them all 30 seconds ago. They no longer work for us.

    Government: We're still going to arrest them!

    Company: That's going to look pretty bad to the world when they learn that you've arrested and imprisoned former employees of our company. What exactly are you going to charge them with, considering that they no longer have jobs and don't represent our company?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 2:43am

      Re:

      I imagine any country tyrannical enough to jail employees in order to punish/pressure a company isn't going to care too much about their reputation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan (profile), 20 May 2021 @ 8:45am

    The push for "One World Government" is as strong as ever

    Gee, when we colonize the Moon or Mars the powers that be will have to do this all over again, to "unscrew" themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.