Friday, September 12, 2008

I hope this doesn't set a precedent

The nation of Jordan has decided to get a little bit tricky when it comes to dealing with international critics of its state religion. Back in 2006 they amended their Justice Act to allow the prosecution of those who affect Jordanians by electronic means, even if those people aren't in Jordan themselves. Now, prosecutors are using this to go after people in other countries, by filing charges and getting warrants for these people, and the asking Interpol to extradite them to Jordan.

Fortunately, so far no one seems to be playing ball with Jordan, as the people they asked to be extradited are mostly from western democracies, who won't extradite someone for exercising their freedom of speech. But if any of those people go on holiday to the middle east, they might not be so lucky.

Another rather worrying aspect of this is that even though the amendment was made in 2006, they are going after people whose alleged crimes were in 2005. This is a rather worrisome retroactive application of a criminal law. Nullum crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine lege is a very old and very good legal maxim. No one should be punished for a crime if there was no law at the time the act was done.

This also raises again the rather complicated issue of who has jurisdiction over the internet. With this law Jordan is claiming that anything that can affect the people of Jordan electronically falls within its jurisdiction, which essentially means the whole of the internet is subject to their laws. This is all very good, but what does Jordan do if say Israel claims the same thing and starts prosecuting anti-Semites in Jordan (I'm reasonably sure there must be some who have internet access) and asking for their extradition. My prediction is Jordan would tell them to go to hell. The only sensible way to handle internet jurisdiction is that each country looks after those in its territory and leaves the rest of the world alone.

Were it otherwise anyone defamed by something on the internet could simply choose the country with the most advantageous defamation laws and bring their case there to their benefit. And can countries that guarantee freedom of speech keep that guarantee while allowing its citizens to be prosecuted by countries with strict restrictions on speech like China. Overlapping jurisdictions do not work.

End Post
Writing time: 32 minutes
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: The Middleman

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