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What Is Internet Jurisdiction?

Anna B. Smith
Anna B. Smith

Internet jurisdiction is used to determine which legal authority may hear a case, between a defendant and plaintiff, in which the potential crime was committed on the Internet. Typically, when a plaintiff, or the individual who initiates a lawsuit, wishes to accuse someone of a crime, he appeals to the legal authority, or court, given jurisdiction over the geographical area where the crime occurred. Internet crime, however, is difficult to assign to a particular geographic location because the originator of the website may be located in a different region or country than the individual against whom the crime was allegedly committed.

When determining state jurisdiction within the United States, current US legal precedence has established that a website operator must exhibit the intention to do business within a specific region in order for that regional court to claim jurisdiction. For example, if a plaintiff in Massachusetts believes that the content of a website, operated in the state of California, violates laws unique to Massachusetts, the plaintiff must prove that the website specifically targets his state as a region in which it wishes to do business. If this intent can be proven, a Massachusetts judge and court would have jurisdiction over the case.

A country may prosecute individuals or another company that violates its laws via the internet, even though those involved may live in a different country.
A country may prosecute individuals or another company that violates its laws via the internet, even though those involved may live in a different country.

Evidence of intent to do business may be proved through various means, such as contact, made by the website operators, with businesses in a specific geographic area, via the website itself. It could also be established if operators made business trips, telephone calls, or fax messages to the region. A variety of other means for proving the intent to do business exist as well, and are often determined by the court of jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis.

Internet jurisdiction at the international level is not similarly regulated. US law provides a guideline by which separate state courts may base their decisions, and states can reference decisions achieved through other state court cases as a basis for their decision. In other words, while a Texas state court may use a ruling made by a court in Wisconsin to make a decision on an Internet case, no such higher authority exists to regulate separate countries.

In such cases, each country typically takes its own laws into consideration when determining legal action, before considering the laws of the country in which the defendant may live. If one nation determines a crime was committed on the Internet, according to it's laws, and determines that its courts have jurisdiction over the case, then that country may prosecute the individuals or company that operates the website, even though those involved may live in a different country.

A somewhat well-known example of international Internet jurisdiction is the case of Dow Jones & Company v. Gutnik. In it, a US Internet publication posted potentially damaging information regarding an Australian citizen. The High Court of Australia then determined that, if information is viewable within Australia, that information and its publishers are subject to the legal jurisdiction of Australia.

An Australian court ruled that an individual's right to be protected from libelous speech outweighs the rights of an Internet publication to publish any material it wishes as a form of freedom of speech. As such, the court also ruled that the website had to remove the material from the Internet. The High Court cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a covenant which, among other things, protects individuals from international attack on their honor or reputation, as a basis for upholding individual rights. The material published on the Internet by the American website, however, was not in violation of any US laws.

The pace of global Internet growth continues to grow at a more rapid rate than governing law. As it, and technical capabilities, outpace the judicial systems of the world, regional and international courts continue to face cases with no legal precedence. Until laws exist to address every possible Internet crime, Internet jurisdiction will most likely be largely determined through case history.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does internet jurisdiction function? What is it?

Internet jurisdiction is the term used to describe a government's legal control over online activities that take place inside its territorial limits. The foundation of jurisdiction is the idea that governments have the power to control actions that significantly affect their people or their nation. Because of the frequent cross-border nature of online operations, internet jurisdiction can be complicated. As a result, figuring out which government has authority over a specific internet action might be difficult. Governments impose their authority over internet activities through a range of legal and technical techniques.

What obstacles face the enforcement of online jurisdiction?

Due to the internet's global reach, enforcing internet jurisdiction can be difficult. Internet actions frequently transcend several national boundaries, making it challenging to identify which government has authority over a given behavior. Also, the laws and rules governing internet behaviors vary throughout nations. This may lead to disputes between various jurisdictions and muddle the issue of whether laws govern a specific online activity.

What sorts of internet jurisdictions are there?

Territorial jurisdiction, nationality jurisdiction, and passive personality jurisdiction are a few examples of online jurisdiction. Territorial jurisdiction is the authority that a government has over actions that take place inside its physical boundaries. Nationality jurisdiction is the authority that a government has over actions involving its nationals, wherever those actions take place. The term "passive personality jurisdiction" describes the authority that a government has over actions that endanger its residents, even if those actions take place outside of its territorial limits.

How do courts decide which jurisdiction has jurisdiction in disputes involving the internet?

When deciding which jurisdiction has jurisdiction in internet issues, courts consider a range of legal principles. A government has jurisdiction over actions that take place inside its territorial boundaries, according to the territoriality concept, and it also has jurisdiction over those that have a major impact on its people or its nation, according to the effects principle. The location of the persons involved, the location of the servers hosting the website, and the location of the injury brought on by the action are all things that courts take into account.

What effects does internet jurisdiction have on people and businesses?

Internet jurisdiction can have a variety of effects on people and businesses. For instance, even though they are based in another country, those who engage in online activities that are against the law in one particular country may face legal action from the government of that country. Online businesses could be subject to the rules and laws of several different nations, which can make compliance difficult. People and businesses should be aware of the rules and regulations that apply to their online activity and take the necessary precautions to comply with them in order to reduce these dangers.

Discussion Comments


@anon130011- If a Brit sued you and you were in the EU, the Brussels Regulation would be applicable. But since you are outside of the EU, the case will be seen under British common law.

The court might also look at what the purpose of your website is. For example, if you have content on your site that's directed at UK residents or if you sell products and services to UK residents, that definitely falls under UK jurisdiction.


@anon130011-- You have to learn the internet jurisdiction laws of Pakistan and England. It will depend on what they are suing you about and if there was a business transaction or agreement made.

Sometimes the two parties can come to an agreement on where they want to have the trial and initiate it in that country. It is also possible for some national courts to refuse to have jurisdiction over an internet based case, so you might be forced to have it in the country that agrees to oversee it.


If I enter into a transaction with the US via website and I am based in Australia, and I wish to sue them for breach of contract, how will the courts decide which laws apply?


if i am operating a website in pakistan and someone from england sues me, where is the case going to be fought?

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    • A country may prosecute individuals or another company that violates its laws via the internet, even though those involved may live in a different country.
      By: Ekler
      A country may prosecute individuals or another company that violates its laws via the internet, even though those involved may live in a different country.