Who governs the Internet? It spans the globe, after all, and allows users from anywhere to communicate with each other at the stroke of a key or the click of the mouse. When there are conflicts, then, whose law applies?
I've written about the tension between data protection and privacy requirements in the European Union and the less stringent data protection and privacy requirements in the U.S. And unless Congress enacts something to pre-empt it, the Internet privacy legislation bubbling up in California will undoubtedly become de facto national law simply because websites are not limited by geographic or jurisdictional boundaries.
This week at the e-G8 forum in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for basic global rules for the Internet. According to The Wall Street Journal, he told a group of representatives from the world's leading online companies:
The states we represent need to make it known that the world you represent is not a parallel universe where legal and moral rules and more generally all the basic principles that govern society in democratic countries do not apply.
He argued that there should be basic rules regarding privacy, taxes and intellectual property, among other things, to which everyone agrees. At the same time, those rules should not hamper the online companies' ability to innovate.
Not surprisingly, the company representatives expressed concern that Sarkozy's approach would lead to too much regulation. The Wall Street Journal quotes Google CEO Eric Schmidt as follows:
You want to stay away from regulating brand new industries. Before we decide we need some regulatory solution to many of these problems, let's see if there is a technological solution.