As any first world resident knows, the Internet has completely changed the way many of us live our lives. We send email now instead of written letters and we play online games against hundreds of other people sprinkled throughout the world instead of board games at home. The sheer number of ways the Internet has impacted our lives is still being counted and quantified by experts all over the world, including lawyers who have found themselves on the front lines of constitutional law battles in cyberspace. Since the Internet is still the “wild, wild west” is so many ways, it can be difficult to even determine what laws have been broken and who has proper jurisdiction in certain cases. Let’s take a look at a few different fronts in which constitutional law battles are taking place this very day in the online world.
Perhaps the most publicized part of online constitutional law is cases involving free speech. The recent decision by search engine giant Google to start censoring their searches that are made from IP addresses that come from China stirred a significant amount of conversation when it comes to the debate of what you can and can’t say online. Since so many websites are created each and every day and only a fraction of them are linked to various search engines or other web pages, it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of speech online never gets challenged, but for those websites that do have the tone, message or style of their site brought into question, what rights do website owners or bloggers have and which ones do they not? There are no easy answers here and just like other parts of law, the definitions of rights are constantly evolving and changing as rulings pour in.
A somewhat less controversial but still critical part of constitutional law online pertains to criminal law. Issues such as where a crime was committed in connection to where a website is hosted and how standing criminal law can be applied to online cases is an ongoing debate that shows no signs of slowing down. When you add in free speech components and esoteric ideas such as religious expression, the waters become even murkier. Recent rulings have changed the way that federal authorities can lure or trap a computer user into committing a crime and with a litany of other landmark court cases on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how constitutional criminal law online evolves in the coming years.
Easily one of the most frustrating parts of online constitutional law is the enforcement of copyrights. The speed and efficiently in which a copyrighted piece of material can be copied, altered and distributed is downright scary and when you broaden your search to include international copyright law, enforcement can grind to a standstill. Of all of the areas of online constitutional law, copyright law is easily the one in the most urgent need of an overhaul.