Euro-IR Project Main Index
APC Internet Law Network
The ability to censor communication has traditionally been mainly in the hands of
the state. This centralised entity has over a long period of time both developed
and refined its capability for censor at the same time as it has slowly developed
a more liberal attitude towards what individuals say about it. For the person or
organisation that wishes to speak ill of a state there are certain
One such advantage is that in many cases the laws, which will govern any future
dispute, are known in advance and will most commonly change gradually.
Another advantage is the states desire to champion the cause of free speech and
open dialogue. Most states today at least nominally accept the need to allow its
citizens to speak freely and any limitation to this right are often well known by
those who wish to criticise the state.
A third advantage is the fact that the state cannot hide its actions or itself in
an effective manner. There will always be a degree of information that can be
obtained by the active citizen.
The fourth advantage is that states exist within a system, which requires
collaboration by other states. Any "misbehaviour" by one state will
incur the displeasure of the other states within the system. This leads to the
effect that activists can pressurise their own states to the advantage of
activists within another state.
Today many researchers argue that the power of the state is in the decline. This
is mostly due to two important factors the first is the growth and globalisation
of business and the second is the ubiquity of information and communications
technology (ICT). In the decline of state power another actor has stepped in to
wield power previously only states could have. The power of corporations is
especially strong on the Internet which is rapidly evolving from a free-for-all
forum to an important economic tool which corporations need to harness to improve
their profitability. The harnessing of the Internet comes at the cost of
individuals right to speech - a right that is only guaranteed against the
One of the aims of the APC is to support the need for free speech not only when it
involves negative commentary of state activity but more often the role of the APC
today concerns the aiding of free speech against private multinational
The importance of corporate actors to the international speech debate has grown
widely and today it is not enough for those who would defend speech to be able to
protect themselves and their speakers against states, but they must also be
prepared to defend themselves against the international corporate world.
The APC Internet rights project has had as its goal to enter into the arena of
free speech and become an important resource for those who would fight for human
rights - especially for the right to promote free discussion in an open
In the practical day-to-day work the open society is not necessarily the fight of
the individual against the state but is often the right of the
individual/organisation against the corporation.
To be able to bring important issues to a wider audience the activist must be
able to speak openly and freely without fear of reprisal. This right is not one
which is generally accepted or supported by corporations and nor is the right to
criticise corporations generally protected under the law. Therefore corporations
who prefer to silence negative publicity can use the law to their advantage in
their desire to silence any and all critical voices.
The APC is part of an international movement to redress this imbalance by helping
legitimate activists publicise their cause. In its work the APC must be prepared
to resolve many pressing issues and act on very short notice.
One such pressing issue is the legal consequences of online activism, both for
the activist and for the APC in its role as a supporter of the activist. The APC
and the activist must under very short notice be able to interpret the legal
consequences of either their own actions or the consequences of any communications
received from a state or corporate actor.
In an effort to be better able to meet the challenges faced by all those involved
and for the APC to provide better support for their activists the APC started the
legal rapid response network project. The purpose of the network has been to
support the work done by other branches of the APC. It quickly became apparent
that the legal issues required a three-pronged approach.
First the legal rapid response network should work for a deeper understanding of
the legal issues involved in the work of the APC. The purpose of this was to
educate the APC, to minimise the legal liability of the APC and its activists and
to promote greater understanding among the users/activists of the legal issues
involved in the free speech debate and to carry out a user driven debate on the
purposes and weaknesses of free speech legislation when applied to an online
The second issue was to be prepared. Once disputes arise the APC or the activist
must have quick access to practical and relevant legal advice. This advice must
also be pertinent to the jurisdictions involved. Very often the activist speaker
involved, once challenged, has very little time to research and meet the
allegations made by the opposing part. Therefore the APC has developed a resource
pool of legally trained, free speech oriented lawyers. This group can provide both
training and provide updates besides being prepared to answer specific questions
when they arise. The practical and theoretical legal expertise represented by the
resource pool is a decisive step towards this goal.
The third goal concerns the long-term commitment of the APC towards the actual
creation of Internet related law. By creating the legal group the APC has created
a forum where legal academia can gather to discuss issues revolving around the
actual practice of free speech online. By collaborating with legal academics the
APC has created the possibility of subtly forming the way in which Internet law
The forum includes many of the heavy names in the present day legal academic
community and also a number of active legal researchers. The forum covers several
jurisdictions and legal schools, this provides for a greater breadth of discussion
and a widening up of the legal debate from its traditionally Anglo-Saxon case law
The legal response network was the creation of the APC group "Rapid Response
Network" which held a workshop in 2002 to which it invited a small group of
lawyers with interests in Internet law and human rights. This group worked in
identifying legal issues faced by the APC and the activists in their work and
drafted advisory documents to help these groups work within the framework of
existing law. The group also formed the base of the future legal forum.
Since this meeting the legal forum discussion list has grown from a few names to
include 50 legally trained Internet/human rights focused lawyers. The list covers
20 jurisdictions, is connected with 14 law faculties and 22 NGO or private
Euro-IR Project Main Index