Jurisdiction and the internet is a topic which has featured once or twice on this blog recently (and in a paper which I have already referred to in those earlier postings). Belgian’s Supreme Court in ordinary (the Hof van Cassatie /Cour de Cassation) employed the objective territoriality principle in a case with roots going back to 2007 (the fraudulent purchase of and subsequent failure to pay for electronic equipment from a shop in Dendermonde, Belgium), Yahoo! was requested to hand over the IP addresses associated with e-mail accounts registered to Yahoo!’s e-mail service. Yahoo! Inc, domiciled in California, refused to comply, triggering fines under criminal law. (It’s corporate slogan btw used to be ‘it’s true!’ Hence the title of the post).
Responding to Yahoo!s claims that Belgium was imposing its criminal laws extraterritorially, the Court of Appeal had held that Yahoo! is territorially present in Belgium, hereby voluntarily submitting itself to the jurisdiction of the Belgian authorities: it takes an active part in economic life in Belgium, among others by use of the domain name http://www.yahoo.be, the use of the local language(s) on that website, pop-up of advertisements based on the location of the users, and accessibility in Belgium of Belgium-focussed customer services (among others: a ‘Belgian’ Q&A, FAQ, and post box). [Notice the similarity with the Pammer /Alpenhof criteria]. The Court of Appeal had suggested that the accusations of extraterritoriality could only be accepted had there been a request for the handover of data or objects which are located in the USA, with which there is no Belgian territorial link whatsoever, and if the holder of these objects or data is not accessible in Belgium (either physically or virtually).
The Supreme Court on 1 December confirmed all of the Court of Appeal’s arguments, essentially linking them to the objective territoriality principle. Yahoo! actively directs its activities towards consumers present in Belgium.
Even though the case involves a criminal proceeding, the Court’s judgment inevitably (not necessarily justifiably) will be used as further support for the Belgian tussle with Facebook.
Postcript 11 March 2016 Google have announced a new policy which goes some way to addressing the EU’s concerns. An unusually conciliatory move.
An inevitable consequence of the rulings in Google Spain, Weltimmo and Schrems /Facebook /Safe harbour, is whether courts in the EU can or perhaps even must insist on extending EU data protection rules to websites outside of EU domain. The case has led to suggestions of ‘exterritorial reach’ of Google Spain or the ‘global reach’ of the RTBF, coupled with accusations that the EU oversteps its ‘jurisdictional boundaries’. This follows especially the order or at least intention, by the French and other data protection agencies, that Google extend its compliance policy to the .com webdomain.
The Landgericht Köln mid September (the case has only now reached the relevant databases) in my view justifiably upheld enforcement jurisdiction in a libel case only against Google.de for that is the website aimed at the German market. It rejected extension of the removal order vis-à-vis Google.com, in spite of a possibility for German residents to reach Google.com, because that service is not intended for the German speaking area and anyone wanting to reach it, has to do so intentionally. (See the ruling under 1, para 3 and 4).
I have further context to this issue in a paper which is on SSRN and which is being peer reviewed as we speak (I count readers of this blog as peers hence do please forward any comments).
A lot of attention last week went to the CJEU’s annulment of the EC’s ‘Safe Harbour’ decision in Schrems v Facebook (aka Austrian student takes on internet giant). I will not detail that finding for I assume, for once, that readers will be au fait with that judgment. For those who are not: please refer to Steve Peers for excellent analysis as per usual. It is noteworthy though that the CJEU’s finding in Schrems is based in the main on a finding of ultra vires: often easily remedied, as those with a background in public law will know.
Schrems (held 6 October) confirmed the Court’s approach to the EU’s prescriptive jurisdiction in data protection laws, as in Google Spain. However the Thursday before, on 1 October, the Court took a more restrictive view on ‘executive’ or ‘enforcement’ jurisdiction in Case C-230/14 Weltimmo. Lorna Woods has the general context and findings over at EU Law analysis. The essence in my view is that the Court insists on internal limitations to enforcement. It discussed the scope of national supervisory authority’s power in the context of Directive 95/4, the same directive which was at issue in Google Spain. The Court held
Where the supervisory authority of a Member State, to which complaints have been submitted in accordance with Article 28(4) of Directive 95/46, reaches the conclusion that the law applicable to the processing of the personal data concerned is not the law of that Member State, but the law of another Member State, Article 28(1), (3) and (6) of that directive must be interpreted as meaning that that supervisory authority will be able to exercise the effective powers of intervention conferred on it in accordance with Article 28(3) of that directive only within the territory of its own Member State. Accordingly, it cannot impose penalties on the basis of the law of that Member State on the controller with respect to the processing of those data who is not established in that territory, but should, in accordance with Article 28(6) of that directive, request the supervisory authority within the Member State whose law is applicable to act.
In other words, the supervisory authority in a Member State can examine the complaints it receives even if the law that applies to the data processing is the law of another Member State. However the scope of its sanctioning power is limited by its national borders.
This finding (I appreciate there are caveats) has important implications for the discussion on the territorial reach of the so-called ‘righ to be forgotten’. It supports in my view, the argument that the EU cannot extend its right to be forgotten rule to websites outside the EU’s domain. I have a paper forthcoming which discusses the various jurisdictional issues at stake here and the impact of Weltimmo on same.