Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Who has jurisdiction over me ?

The principle of jurisdiction is a basic tenet in law. Jurisdiction refers to the  law, the court, the authority that is applicable to you . You are then required to follow that law and be subject to  oversight by that authority and that court. In the good old days, jurisdiction was simple - where you were decided who had jurisdiction over you.  I live in India and so the laws of India apply to me. The government of India is the authority that has jurisdiction over me and the courts in India  are the forum I can go to. Simple.

As the world started to globalise, the issue of jurisdiction started to become more complicated. If I did a commercial transaction with say an Australian company - who would have jurisdiction ?  Australia ? India ? That is why in contracts involving multiple countries it is always stated which law would apply and which courts would have jurisdiction. But physical presence or assets always enables that country to have jurisdiction . Although I am an Indian citizen, when I travel to say Burkina Faso, the laws of that country shall prevail - If the law there says that I have to yell Abracadabra loudly three times at 4.27 AM, I better do so.

The arrival of the internet completely destroyed the fundamental principles of jurisdiction and unfortunately there are no legal treaties or conventions that seem to have decided this. Which is why jurisdiction has been "usurped" by the country that is powerful - the US of A. I am an unapologetic Americophile and have great admiration for that country;  yet I find the behaviour of the United States utterly deplorable and downright repulsive in this matter.

I am referring to the famous NSA and the spying it is doing on the world. All the hullabaloo in the US has been about spying on American citizens. But what about foreigners like me - the US has no jurisdiction over me and yet it intercepts every email of mine and reads it, if it wishes to. Forget a non entity like me; the US has been hacking   Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil. Now, it is fairly certain that she is no security threat to the US and yet the NSA has hacked her, simply because it could. Brazil is furious and she has cancelled her visit to the US triggering a diplomatic row.

It all boils down to jurisdiction. Google, Microsoft, et al - virtually every internet company of any note is headquartered in the United States and its servers where data is stored is physically based in the United States.  The NSA is therefore claiming jurisdiction and forcing these companies to turn over every data to it - of you and me as well, although we may have nothing to do with the United States.

The danger of balkanisation of the internet is obvious. Brazil is the first to respond (it is really pissed off that they hacked Dilma Rousseff). Brazil is contemplating a law that will force the likes of Google and Microsoft to store any data that originates from Brazil in servers in Brazil itself. Then the likes of the NSA have no jurisdiction and can be told loudly to %$#^ off.

It is easy to turn a blind eye to the NSA's shenanigans and argue that they are welcome to pore every inch over my boring life and inane communication. But that misses the point on civil liberties - a prize that over the centuries, generations have fought and guarded zealously.  If I decide to post my mug shot publicly on Facebook, then I have no right to claim privacy. But if I send a private email to a friend in India, then it is none of the NSA's business to snoop into it. I have no problems if the government of India wants to read it (although I would vigorously oppose that without a court warrant), but I will not tolerate the government of the United States reading it under any circumstance.

What about the NSA argument that this is necessary to combat terrorism and is for security considerations. Bullshit. That may have been how it started, but it has gone way beyond that now. Is Dilma Rousseff or the German embassy in Brussels remotely connected with terrorism - and yet both have been hacked into.  The sanctimonious nonsense of the US objecting to organised Chinese hacking is now exposed - they are no better than the Chinese and even the Chinese did not go far enough to hack Dilma Rousseff.

Why this post in a politics free business blog ? Simply because I am amazed that the fury over the NSA actions is not greater around the world. I may be an insignificant individual but I must speak my mind that the US has absolutely no jurisdiction over me.


Anonymous said...

Can't agree with you more Ramesh. This is heights of hypocrisy. They claim to stand for certain values as long as it suits them and show no hesitation on trampling someone else's foot if it means there is a remote chance of some benefit they are looking for. Support the stand taken by Brazil and we should also take exception to such acts perpetuated on us. Any way the actual trouble makers probably have long since stopped using electronic messages as they know these are open to being detected..


The Million Miler said...

by the same token, there are 'lawless' zones in the world, like say, for instance, the high seas, which is technically owned by no country and ergo, no jurisdiction applies there. The fact is that we live in a dangerous world and the innocent neighbour kid next door could be stuffing a pressure cooker with you know what to kill and maim innocent bystanders. This warrants some form of 'intel' and hence the governments all over resort to snooping. Especially in this unconventional battle where you know not who the enemy is. Having said that, there is no reason why Uncle Sam should snoop into the Brazilian President's computer. But then if you are the self appointed world cop, then you are the judge, jury and arbitrator and can pretty much do what you want. NZ has recently had a controversy on a bill called the GCSB bill (which has some elements of snooping) and one of my conspiracy theory friends here maintains that facebook, linkedin, twitter and all such social media is a creation of the government of the US to intrude into our lives. (Seriously, is Uncle Sam really interested in how hot the vatthal kozhambu was today at my home?)

Appu said...

I too want to protest and cancel my trip to US but alas, i cannot cause there is no trip planned! ;)

On a serious note,am really not sure, NSA can really analyze all the data they collect!

I feel they also snoop over many rather than just Brazilian President!

Ramesh said...

@Exkalibur - Terrorists do use electronic communication - after all it is impossible to live in today's world without it. So Snooping is justified, b7ut organised, legal hacking is not, in my book.

@Kiwi - There is international maritime law who has jurisdiction in the high seas; its cyberspace whjere there is chaos.

I won't buy the terrorist theory. Spying is fine and everybody does it. But forcing companies to hand over the entire population of data is completely unacceptable. You can't spy on the whole world - what then is the difference with Orwellian Big Brother.

The United States has taken collective leave of its senses after 9/11. We initially thought it was George Bush and his mad cronies going berserk. But Obama and the current lot are no different. They are breaking every international law in this matter. It will come back to bite them - and whatever happened the principles and values that America stood for. The downfall of an empire can easily be predicted when it forgoes its values - and that's what the US is doing now.

@Zeno - Please remember your first sentence when you become the Chairman of Apple :):):)

Oh yes - they have hacked Nieto - the Mexican President; they have hacked every embassy in Washington, New York (UN) and Brussels (European Commission). They seem to have hacked the whole world bar China - and that too only because they can't read Chinese :)

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, hey, the topic is very much appropriate in "Business Musings" in so many different ways. From the rights of the consumer, to the various corporations involved, to ....

I am shocked that there is not much of a protest over the NSA issues, within the US and in other countries. Most Americans reflexively respond with variations of "only if you have anything to hide do you need to worry about snooping" which itself is bizarre. A typical response of "if there is nothing you worry about, then may I have your email password please" makes them re-think that issue.

Powerful governments, and the wannabes, have always spied on others, including their allies. But, it has never been done so arrogantly. It is awful that we (yes, I have to shamefully admit that I am a part of US!) are telling the rest of the world to go fly a kite.

Unlike many, I am not at all surprised that Obama has not only continued on with the post-9/11 Bushian policies but has massively expanded them and put them to even more powerful use. On this, I can even point to my blog posts that I have been worried about him even since his candidate days, when Europe was in major love with him, and he took on some messianic airs.

We all owe Snowden big time--without his leaks we would never, ever have had the conclusive evidence for something that we had suspected all along. Without his leaks, we would never ever have had even the little bit of discussions that challenges the otherwise "bipartisan" spirit on national security. It is certainly quite a political theatre with the old Bushians rushing to defend Obama, which itself says a lot!

Oh well ... got to go--there is a drone hovering outside my window and it is shootiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

Pranav said...

I have mixed feelings about the NSA snooping. I can't say I am against it but the scope of their snooping requires some oversight. I guess it comes across as mild compared to the travesty that the "Patriot Act" was. That was more a violation of civil liberties than NSA snooping could be - unless I am missing something pretty basic.

Ramesh said...

@sriram - That is a brilliant retort for those who say they don't care if their mails are read. I know you have bee stating this view on Obama and you are increasingly being proved right. I had a different view and I must say I am sorely disappointed. What is really foxing me is that public opinion is so muted in the US - even in the campuses, the traditional defender of civil liberties. Even the ACLU is nowhere to be heard. Did you lot really get mutated by 9/11 ???

@Pranav - There is a fundamental problem. What you US citizens do, is up to you. I have a point of view on both NSA and the Patriot Act, but that is neither here nor there, as I am not a US citizen, nor do I live in the US. My central argument is that the US government has no jurisdiction wholesale over foreign citizens living in another country. Your laws don't apply to me. Therefore wholesale hacking of every email is blatantly against international law. Spying to combat terrorists is different from watching every email and phone call. The US has absolutely no business to monitor world communications.

Niraj Kapasi said...

Fully agree with you Ramesh. We need to make noise and take actions where it hurts most. We should start a movement to stop using products and services of these companies and then these companies will stop cooperating with the Government.

Niraj Kapasi said...

I would like to suggest everyone to read these two articles...

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, your comment about ACLU might be off ... the ACLU folks have been at it post-9/11 with the same vigor as they were pre-9/11. (Full disclosure: am a card-carrying ACLU member) Complementing them is another group called the Center for Constitutional Rights. Together, they were the ones that harassed the Fed about Guantanamo, waterboarding, ... but, they, and other public interest groups have their limitations. When things are conducted in a secret court,well, there is nothing you can do before anything happens. And reacting to past events via Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits always take a much longer time. Further, there is no help from the legislative branch. For all purposes, it really didn't matter which party controlled the White House or the Senate or the House--when it came to national security, they were all in cahoots.
Even a senator like Oregon's Wyden could only talk in the public in vague terms--the whole security process had become so skewed. Terrible.

The administrative side has become even messier now. A president who has been only a pontificator all his life, and his key cabinet aides--secretary of state and of defense are senate gasbags with very little decision-making track record. Should we be surprised then they seem to merely make up things as events unfold? And, as senators, these were also the same people who participated in creating all those draconian structures.

So, when we look at how much the US has changed for the worse, shouldn't we wonder and worry that al Qaeda has won and the American ideals have lost out big time? What a shame!

Ramesh said...

@Niraj - Excellent links - thanks for sharing. Beautiful articulation of why privacy is important

@sriram - Maybe the ACLU is active - but I don't seem to be hearing it this far. One of the big faults Snowden did was to go to China of all places and then blow the whistle. Imagine if he stood in Washington, surrounded by ACLU and then let the cat out of the back. Public reaction would have been different I believe and the government would have to go against the teeth of public opinion to jail him.

Yes America has changed for the worse. I think 9/11 has completely altered the perception of values.

Sriram Khé said...

Glenn Greenwald, who was key in helping break the Snowden leaks, has written and spoken in plenty on why Snowden did not blow the whistle from within the US. The earlier Bradley Manning leak in a way provided Snowden a road map of what might happen to him as well.
Daniel Ellsburg, who was the "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower forty years ago, even wrote op-eds defending Snowden's decision to stay away from the US during all these.
The Obama administration has been the worst presidency in this aspect of going after with a vengeance. They didn't even spare Aaron Swartz and that had nothing to do with national security! Sorry to add more to burst your Obama bubble ;)

Ramesh said...

@sriram - I can understand Snowden's reluctance to be in the US, but his case is different from Bradley Manning. Manning simply leaked for sensationalism. Snowden genuinely blew the whistle.

If ACLU was really a powerful body it could have whipped public opinion against the treatment to Snowden - I truly believe the US government could not have done what it willed against him if he had blown the whistle in Washington. But to go to China, was not a wise move. Other options existed if he had wished - Switzerland, even India. Neither would have handed him back to the US on a platter.

Appu said...

ha ha i might want to build my very own Apple! entrep bug might have bit me. we should talk. will call you soon :) need your advice as most of your prophecy has come true!

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

@Ramesh: I think what happened is that someone in the NSA realised how easy it was to snoop on an increasingly internet-enabled world given that most internet traffic was based on systems built in the United States. Once that happened, what has resulted is an enormous breach of trust. Given that there was no trust between China and United States, Chinese internet traffic was originated in hubs in China (Weibo etc) and the Chinese government ringfenced them because they were spying on their citizens anyway (and thus escaped the beedy glare of the NSA).

In a world overloaded with information, this outrage will not make headlines more than three days in a row.

Ramesh said...

@Appu - Ah well; if most of my prophecies are coming true, then could you introduce me to the Filipino lady :):):)

@Ravi - Very likely this was how it happened. And yes China escaped precisely because it has kept everything within its borders. So therefore every country must now do this - what a shame.

What is baffling me is why there is no sense of outrage across the world. Have we started to not care about some basic principles and the relationship between the state and the individual. George Orwell must be chuckling as to how the population seems to be welcoming Big Brother.

Appu said...

You never know, you can meet many of them in the planned chetan bhagatish type novel which may come sooneer or later ;)

Pranav said...

Totally agree about the spying on foreign citizen outside of the terrorism realm.

Reflections said...

I remembered a quote I read long back and went hunting for it...
There are only two occasions when Americans respect privacy, especially in Presidents. Those are prayer and fishing.
Herbert Hoover


It maybe a business blog for most but for me it's my GK page;-D

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - Beautiful Quote. And when I need a lift all I have to do is read a Reflections comment on my blog. Thanks very much.

Vishal said...

Absolutely with you, we must make a noise!

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Amen.

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