Protecting the rule of law in the online environment

7 November 2012 - A Workshop on Security in Baku, Azerbaijan


Stakeholders with an interest in restraining certain types of content and conduct seek to co-opt Internet intermediaries as their enforcement agents, using measures such as notice and takedown, network blocking, and other techniques. At the heart of such procedures lie two implicit claims: that the law proscribes certain content or conduct, and that the content or conduct in question does in fact fall within the proscribed category. Both of these claims are in principle capable of refutation: the person responsible for the material or conduct in question may claim either that they are legally entitled to do the thing they are accused of, or that although they wouldn’t be entitled to do it, they didn’t do it. For example, in a copyright dispute, the publisher may either admit their content is a copy of somebody else’s material, but claim legally protected use, or may deny their content is a copy. Internet intermediaries protest that they are unable to evaluate legal defences and factual disputes, leading them to either reject proposals for intervention partnerships with complainant groups (frustrating both those groups and the aspirations of policy-makers to foster non-legislative measures) or assume that all allegations by reputable mass-scale submitters of complaints are well founded (thereby denying one party a fair hearing). Further, the development of intervention procedures through negotiation between Internet intermediaries and regular submitted of complaints lacks structures to support consideration of fundamental rights in general, and the “rule of law” / “due process” qualities in adjudication procedures in particular. Structures may not be present to provide systematic assurance that such extra-judicial measures meet essential minimum requirements for transparency, independence, consistency, non-discrimination and other necessary standards. Together, these shortcomings lead to charges of systematic bias in extra-judicial processes for intervention against Internet misuse by Internet intermediaries. This workshop will ask participants to describe what criteria they consider constitute adequate mechanisms for adjudication of disputes and complaints, whether there can be public confidence in processes developed with the input of stakeholders that are themselves one of the parties to complaints, and what structures they recommend be adopted in the design of complaint resolution procedures to respect the legitimate interests of all parties

Agenda of the workshop
- Introductory round
- When is the delegation of enforcement powers to intermediaries suitable/possible?
- Have intermediaries a role in evaluating legal defenses or factual disputes?
- Current procedures for notifying and acting on illegal content hosted by online intermediaries
- To what extent the rule of law and due process help in adjudication procedures?
- What is the impact on Internet users' rights?
- Public confidence: how to avoid losing it?
- Conclusions