Jurisdiction on the Internet: From Legal Arms Race to Transnational Cooperation

GCIG Paper No. 28

April 1, 2016

The cross-border Internet and its online spaces span a fragmented patchwork of national jurisdictions. As connectivity and Internet penetration increase, so do the conflicts between jurisdictions. Such conflicts challenge the Westphalian international system, and traditional modes of legal cooperation struggle to resolve these jurisdictional tensions. Extreme application of the principle of territoriality and the exertion of digital sovereignty put the global community on a dangerous path if employed on the global scale. If nothing is done, this legal arms race could lead to severe unintended consequences for the future of the global digital economy, human rights, the technical Internet infrastructure and security.

Twenty-first century digital realities challenge traditional modes of international legal cooperation, revealing an institutional gap in Internet governance that may be solved by drawing lessons from the technical governance of the Internet. Preserving the global character of the Internet, fighting illicit online behaviour, and establishing procedural interoperability and due process across borders demand innovative cooperation mechanisms that are as transnational as the Internet itself.

In order to properly address jurisdictional tensions such as cross-border access to user data, content takedowns, or domain seizures, this paper recommends the creation of issue-based multistakeholder policy networks to develop scalable solutions.

Part of Series

Global Commission on Internet Governance Paper Series

The Global Commission on Internet Governance was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. The two-year project conducted and supported independent research on internet-related dimensions of global public policy, culminating in an official commission report that articulates concrete policy recommendations for the future of Internet governance.

About the Authors

Bertrand de La Chapelle is co-founder and director of the Internet & Jurisdiction Project. He was a director on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers board from 2010 to 2013.

Paul Fehlinger is the inaugural director of policy, governance innovation and impact at Project Liberty’s Institute for responsible innovation and ethical governance of emerging and disruptive technologies.