Legal jurisdiction is legal jurisdiction: there appears to be no doubt to that, is there?


The United States has finally succeeded in extraditing Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz. They were taken from Long Lartin prison in a police convoy.  Two armoured vans, a blacked-out police people carrier and three police Range Rovers arrived at the Worcestershire jail on Friday evening just before dusk.

At the same time, two US passenger airliners were waiting on the tarmac at an air base in the east of England. So that would appear to be that and the action is right and proper to a certain extent.

Abu Hamza, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz stand accused of serious terrorist involvement and it is only right and proper that they should be extradited at the earliest possible opportunity. However, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan are accused of  running pro-jihad website Azzam.com and of helping terrorists. The US government maintains that the  internet site was hosted there because it is a ‘dot com’ registration.

There are two points that I would make about this and the first is simple: UK law should take precedence over US law and Ahmad and Ahsan should have been tried here in the UK. I feel deeply uncomfortable that our government has subordinated UK law by giving precedence to US legal proceedings.

The second point is more complex but bears careful examination. The US are asserting that ‘dot net’, ‘dot org’ and ‘dot com’ registrations are classed as ‘being in the US’ because of their hosting on US soil. Here is some evidence of this argument from The Open Rights Group, which exists to preserve and promote legal rights in a digital context: “the U.S. Government claims jurisdiction because ‘TVShack.net’ used a ‘dot-net’ domain. They claim that the use of the ‘dot-com’, ‘dot-net’ or ‘dot-org’ domains gives them the right to assert U.S laws globally, because these domains are managed by American companies such as Verisign”.

Surely if that is the case, that the US government claims jurisdiction over these websites, then that must mean that all companies and organisations so registered are equally subject to US internal revenue laws too? They cannot cherry pick the bits they want and leave the bits that are not politically palatable. This would mean that companies such as B&Q and Tesco should be liable to pay tax in the US in respect of their online transactions, unless there is a law that clearly defines the liabilities that are attached to these internet registrations.

The US government has also stated that it may legally seize any domain ending in .com, .net, and other popular top-level domains, if it considers the action necessary because they are managed by Verisign, and that is based in the US. Equally, Slashdot observes that  the “State of Maryland prosecutors were able to obtain a warrant ordering Verisign, the company that manages the dot-com domain name registry, to redirect the website to a warning page advising that it has been seized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The message from the case is clear: all dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org domain names are subject to U.S. jurisdiction regardless of where they operate or where they were registered. This grants the U.S. a form of ‘super-jurisdiction’ over Internet activities, since most other countries are limited to jurisdiction with a real and substantial connection.”

It stands to reason that if a crime committed on a top-level domain name is legally uniquely under US jurisdiction, then if that constitutes a crime in the US, it must be actionable and enforceable in the US. Moreover, if the crime comes under US jurisdiction, surely purchases must too, in terms of taxation? That being the case, online transactions in companies such as B&Q and  Tesco surely must be liable to pay tax on their profits online to the US Internal Revenue Service?

I would like to see the US government taken to task over their seemingly discriminatory laws. You can imagine the uproar in financial centres across the world.

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