Thursday, December 15, 2016
Google Supreme Court case in Canada pits rule of law against free speech
Should technology companies be legally responsible for policing the global Internet to enforce the laws of any one country?
This thorny question is at the heart of a case now being heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, as Google challenges a British Columbia court order requiring it to block certain search results worldwide. If the order is upheld, it could set a precedent with profound and far-reaching implications, not only for Google and other tech firms with global reach, but also for the future of free and open access to information on the Internet.
The order against Google arose from a legal fight between a B.C.-based manufacturer of complex industrial equipment, Equustek Solutions Inc., and its former distributors, which Equustek alleges stole its trade secrets, eventually developing competing products and selling them on the Internet.
Despite a 2012 order for contempt of court and an ensuing arrest warrant, the former distributors have continued to flout multiple court orders to stop advertising and selling the products online. Unable to reach the defendants directly, Equustek set its sights on strangling their Internet traffic.
Equustek asked the B.C. courts to require Google to remove hundreds of websites that market the infringing products from Google search results worldwide. The order was granted and now Google is asking the Supreme Court to reverse it.
Among Google’s arguments is that the B.C. court has “deputized” it to carry out the functions of Canadian law enforcement by forcing the search giant into an endless and costly game of “whack-a-mole” with the defendants’ websites. Google did nothing wrong, but is being forced to bear the cost and responsibility to fix the problem.