The capacity of the Internet to connect people and businesses across national jurisdictions has begun to steadily erode the power and relevance of the traditional nation state. However, it would seem that few of these nation states have fully woken up to that reality. As governments start to recognise this development, it is probable that they will react by attempting to divide or segment the Internet on a national basis – which will lead to an increasingly balkanised Internet experience. In many ways historically speaking the Internet has gotten a “free pass” from governments for longer than might have been expected.
Right now there is rising concern on the part of governments seeking to apply their national laws to a global borderless Internet. Ranging from the prohibition of Nazi propaganda in Germany to the prohibition of anti-monarchy statements and expression in Thailand – many countries proscribe specific types of behaviour within the boundaries of their nation state which the Internet makes progressively more difficult to effectively enforce. Sites like Twitter and YouTube receive daily court orders in different countries asking them to remove material which is considered defamatory or inflammatory in a particular national jurisdiction (ranging from hate speech to jokes, political criticism or statements which are deemed to be unacceptable or perceived to undermine public morals). Many of these laws (such as the hate speech laws in France and Germany) were enacted using perfectly sound democratic processes and principles. This domain effectively represents the thin end of the wedge where governments will set publically acceptable precedents for regulating Internet content – precedents which are then likely to pave the way for further expansion of the scope and reach of this regulation to other areas of content and Internet activity.