Monday, February 21, 2005

Dutch Supreme Court Pushes Geolocation

The Dutch Supreme Court has decided last Friday that a foreign online gambling site should restrict Dutch people from using their service. The Supreme Court noted that the gambling site may use geolocation software to ban Dutch users from accessing their site. Geolocation techniques offer geographic localization by connecting IP addresses to the nationality of a user. Every time a user connects to the Internet his ISP assigns him an IP address out of the block of addresses assigned to the ISP itself. Names and addresses of these ISPs and the blocks that are assigned to them, are stored in a database which is in the public domain. With this information a source can differentiate in content depending on the location of the user. It facilitates the adjustment of language per region and more personal advertising. It also supports the enforcement of local law on foreign site through code.

The decision of the Dutch Supreme Court is reminiscent of the Yahoo! case, in which geolocation techniques were proposed to filter out French users. Small problem with these techniques is that Dutch users may use anonymizers, foreign users may log in through a Dutch ISP, and nothing prevents a future reallocation of IP addresses. More interesting though, is that this decision by the Dutch Supreme Court entails a view about the internet that may become more dominant with time: a geolacated collection of national networks, rather than the open international network it is at the moment. Though on that last note, Saudi Arabia, China and other countries, already make use of IP address based filtering to reduce the internet to a national intranet.

Some argue that geolocation will be necessary, and not to weaken freedom of speech, but to protect it: under French freedom of speech law the eradication of hate speech (as was the subject in the Yahoo! case) is allowed and seen as necessary to protect a democratic society. This same protection could be needed in other cases, so is argued. This may be detrimental to US free speech values, and not my personal line of thought, it increasingly finds its way into the mainstream. The Dutch Supreme Court at least did not think much of it that the rest of the world should adjust to our local law.
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The Dutch Supreme Court decision can be found at SOLV (Doc.)


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