The law of unintended consequences

The internet continues to be a working example of the law of unintended consequences. We’ve seen how the global reach of internet publications can result in a defamation action in London brought by an American against other Americans regarding an article on an American website. These days, not only can we buy goods from all over the world, we can shop for favourable legal jurisdictions too.

Why’s this topical? Because yesterday a US District Court decided that it can subpoena digital evidence, no matter where in the world it’s stored. It’s early days, and there will be appeals, but the judge in this case clearly takes the view that the Stored Communications Act has global reach.

What’s not clear yet is whether the US believes that this applies only to data stored by US organisations, wherever it’s stored, or whether it’s somehow universal. Either way, it makes a potential mockery of any cloud provider’s promises to store your data in a specific region. It also means yet further litigation concerns for anyone doing business with the US.

The UK government finally acted to stop “libel tourism” last October, by passing the new Defamation Act, which requires plaintiffs to show that they actually have a reputation to defend in England. Will we see Angela Merkel’s Digital Fortress Europe act to offer similar protection for information stored by EU citizens in EU datacentres, I wonder?

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