Geography, lesgislation and terms of service

For Activists, Journalists, NGOs or any Civil Society online participants, legal and geographic jurisdiction should be forefront when considering where to host their websites.

Legal Jurisdictions

The Internet has introduced a dislocated sense of legal jurisdiction, in some cases the problem of applying one countries laws to a different jurisdiction is not a new conception. Over time many countries have developed contracts, treaties and agreements with other states governing extradition of individuals who are wanted for breach of one country's legal code but are currently residing in another country.

There have been a number of cases in the last decade ranging from extremely high profile, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, to limited attention paid, Gary McKinnion.

In many countries a core weapon used for censorship, oppression and repression is the judiciary and the enacting or novel use of laws designed to restrict freedoms. This is a very effective tactic and the results can be seen in countries such as Vietnam where a number of individuals have been tried for publishing material consider by the authorities to be illegal; either because of content - deemed anti-governmental - or method of publishing - publication under pseudonyms.

Publication within the Jurisdiction of a given country can leave the publishers open to legal punishment.

Ultimately, hosting a site in a different political or legal jurisdiction can not prevent recriminations against journalist, organisation or activists with country. It can prevent the ability to physical take the site or publication offline.

This can be hampered in part by the use of intermediary resellers. For example, in the case of Cambodia hosting platforms are located outside of the country, however, access to these services is done through local resellers who are subject to Cambodian law. These resellers are chosen largely for language and immediacy of access to support.

In determining the current laws that are applied or may be applied to your work or your locale there are a number of resources provided by monitoring groups that can be used as a starting point. This information is far from complete and is often only able to report on what legal tools have been used in the past.

  1. Civil Rights Defenders
  2. Indian Law and Technology blog
  3. Open Rights Group
  4. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
  5. Committee to protect Journalists
  6. Freedom House
  7. Witness
  8. Frontline Defenders
  9. Lawyers without Borders
  10. ISC Project
  11. Many countries have specialised legal aide and free legal advice centres that can be contacted to help determine what laws may apply to your work

Geographic Areas

Locating a server within a groups own geographic area, where their adversary is the authority or power groups within that geography will leave the site open to infrastructural attacks or censorship.

As the site is located within the country's own infrastructure it is subject to all censorship applied by the state, ISP or national gateway.

Publishing and Content Legislation

Censorship through legal means is a prevalent form of suppression and a cause of self censorship. It is extremely important that organisations, journalists and individual take responsibility for their own education in terms of awareness of new digital laws as well as past applications and precedents set in prosecution.

Terms and Conditions

Carefully choice should be made in terms of the provider themselves. A strong reputation for support, quality and security is important but as to is alignment with your organisations goals.

Ultimately, a contract is agreed between your organisation and the service provider. This contract governs how, when, and under what circumstances service will or won't be provided.

If your provider has a history of discontinuing service to activists, journalist or civil society groups, or request that they self censor - then it is important to establish this at the outset. It is necessary to determine with your provider what content they might prohibit or what rules govern the extent to which they will support activists in publishing their work.

There are already a number of service providers that aim to support the activists, NGO and non-profit world. Amongst them are Green Host, Riseup and Leap.