This is a disturbing decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, as explained by my former colleague (and fellow Canadian) Jeff Roberts at Fortune. It follows some equally troubling decisions in Europe that have ordered Google to delete results worldwide because of the so-called “right to be forgotten.”
In a 7-2 decision, the court agreed a British Columbia judge had the power to issue an injunction forcing Google to scrub search results about pirated products not just in Canada, but everywhere else in the world too.Those siding with Google, including civil liberties groups, had warned that allowing the injunction would harm free speech, setting a precedent to let any judge anywhere order a global ban on what appears on search engines. The Canadian Supreme Court, however, downplayed this objection and called Google’s fears “theoretical.”
Update: Daphne Keller published a smart piece on this issue at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society (which I found via Eugene Volokh). Here’s some of what she said:
Canada’s endorsement of cross-border content removal orders is deeply troubling. It speeds the day when we will see the same kinds of orders from countries with problematic human rights records and oppressive speech laws. And it increases any individual speaker’s vulnerability to laws and state actors elsewhere in the world. Content hosting and distribution are increasingly centralized in the hands of a few multinational companies – Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft with their web hosting services, etc. Those companies have local presence and vulnerability to formal jurisdiction and real world threats of arrest or asset seizure in scores of countries.
It should be noted that Keller is associate general counsel at Google, and as such was involved in this particular case at the Court of Appeals stage. But her warning is still worth listening to. Another smart post on the topic comes from my friend Michael Geist, a Canadian law professor.
What happens if a Chinese court orders it to remove Taiwanese sites from the index? Or if an Iranian court orders it to remove gay and lesbian sites from the index? Since local content laws differ from country to country, there is a great likelihood of conflicts. That leaves two possible problematic outcomes: local courts deciding what others can access online or companies such as Google selectively deciding which rules they wish to follow.