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UEL PhD scholar is leading voice in complex issue of international internet law

Sara Solmone warns that internet laws in some nations could threaten freedom of expression

A PhD scholar at the University of East London (UEL) is drawing international attention to the complex and urgent issue of how countries across the world exercise their laws over the internet.

Sara Solmone has spoken on the issue at a number of recent international conferences, including in December at the important GigaNet Annual Symposium, part of the UN’s Internet Governance Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.

Her busy schedule of international speaking engagements comes just ahead of a major conference of world leaders meeting in Ottawa, Canada, in February, who hope to tackle the issue.

Sara explained, “The problem facing States is that the internet is not a physical thing, and also it’s global. You have internet servers in one country, web hosting in another, and content being provided by possibly one or more other countries.

“What might be perfectly legal in one country can also be deemed illegal in another. Countries don’t have legal jurisdiction over other nations, yet we’re seeing demands by States to do just that, which is a direct threat to freedom of expression on a global scale.” 

Sara’s PhD is in law, looking at the intersection of State and international law around the internet and freedom of expression. She is supervised by renowned legal scholar Professor Chandra Sriram at UEL. 

In Ottawa, the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network will bring together senior figures from the governments of the US, Argentina, Brazil, and India, along with officials from the UN and Google, to make proposals to world governments. Sara is not participating in the conference.

In highlighting the urgency of the issue, Sara often cites the current example of ‘Google Inc. v Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés’, a legal case awaiting a final ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Sara said, “France’s data protection authority has asked Google to delete some search results related to French internet users in accordance with the EU right to be forgotten. However, the French request is not limited to Google.fr or the European versions of Google, the French authority asked Google to remove the unwanted search result form all its geographical extensions, including its non-European versions, such as Google.com.” 

Sara also frequently cites the case of ‘Perrins v United Kingdom’, in which Stephane Laurent Perrin, a French national living in the UK, was prosecuted for providing content to a website that, under UK obscenity laws, was illegal. The website was run from the US, which was responsible for the publication of the content.

Mr Perrins was found guilty and sentenced to 33 months in prison. He took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favour of the conviction. 

Sara’s expertise has been popular among academics peers and NGOs. In 2017, she was invited to present her thinking at a plenary session of the Réseaux IP Européens (RIPE) meeting in Dubai. 

RIPE is the regional internet registry responsible for assigning IP addresses in Europe, Middle East and parts of Central Asia. A recording of Sara’s presentation can be watched here.  

In March, Sara will head to New York to present at the New York Law School as part of the Internet Law Works in Progress conference. She also plans to present in Bristol on the same topic at the Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA) Annual Conference.