A little over 20 years ago, Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow penned a manifesto that served as the basic blueprint for Silicon Valley cyber-libertarian ideology for two decades. Premised on the notion that the Internet (capitalized here since Barlow definitely treated it as a space rather than as a tool for communication), freed from government interference and the application of laws, would produce a more perfect society in which disputes would be resolved through dialogue rather than force or mandate, he famously wrote in his 1996 Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace….While it may have been forgivable in 1996 to be unable to accurately foresee the role of the internet, it is unforgivable in 2017 to pretend that this is an accurate reflection of the world we inhabit…An internet of Backpage, of ISIS recruitment, of cyber-bullying, of phishing, of ransomware and revenge porn, of cyber-espionage, of trafficking in counterfeit and pirate content. Achieving an internet that captures its potential to enhance social, cultural and economic well-being requires more than self-governance, and is predicated on the technology neutral application of laws to internet-based conduct.
Fortunately, governments, policy makers and many non-governmental organizations are increasingly aware that it is long past time to jettison the baggage of Barlow’s cyber-libertarianism. In furtherance of this understanding, governments around the world have taken action to ensure the application of law to online behavior, all of which brings us around to the [now buried] headline—the recent decision of the Canadian Supreme Court in Google v. Equustek.
Google, channeling Barlow’s “we are everywhere and nowhere,” challenged the right of Canadian courts to issue an injunction that had effect in jurisdictions other than Canada. The Canadian Supreme Court quickly dispelled this, holding that: “Where it is necessary to ensure the injunction’s effectiveness, a court can grant an injunction enjoining conduct anywhere in the world. The problem in this case is occurring online and globally. The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates—globally.” In four short sentences, the Supreme Court of Canada turned Barlow’s “absence of borders” into a mandate for taking technology-neutral action in defense of its territorial sovereignty.