Off-Shore Search Warrants

The Microsoft Ireland Case

The decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Microsoft v US – otherwise known as Microsoft Ireland – has brought a breath of fresh air to the law relating to warranted searches for evidence online and whether those warrants can cover material located on servers in other jurisdictions – a concept known as extraterritoriality.

A search warrant was issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It directed Microsoft to seize and produce the contents of an e-mail account it maintained for a customer. There was probable cause that the account was being used to further narcotics trafficking.

Microsoft, it must be emphasised, was not charged with any offence. It complied with the warrant as to data that was stored in the United States. However, to comply fully with the warrant it would need to access the customer’s content that was stored and maintained in its servers located in Ireland, and to import that data into the United States to deliver up to the Federal authorities. Microsoft moved to quash the warrant, but this was denied and the lower Court held Microsoft in civil contempt.

It is important to be aware of the legislative context. The warrant was issued under the provisions of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) which was enacted as Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act 1986. The SCA is designed to protect the privacy of the contents of files stored by service providers and records held about subscribers by service providers.

It is also important to note that the SCA was passed in 1986 – thirty years ago when as the Court put it the “technological context was very difference from today’s Internet-saturated reality.” This context had a significant affect upon the way that the Court construed the Statute.

In addition the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure limited the territorial scope of warrants to United States Territories, possessions or Commonwealth and the diplomatic missions and residencies of the United States in foreign countries.

The argument of the United States Government was based upon the concept of control of data and on that basis extended the reach of the warrant to premises owned, maintained or controlled by Microsoft. The concept of control for the purposes of discovery in civil proceedings may require a party to discover material in another jurisdiction, but could a search warrant have the same effect?

The starting point is the principle that the legislation enacted by Congress is meant to apply within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States unless a contrary intent clearly appears. This presumption is applied to protect against unintended clashes between US laws and those of other nations which could result in international discord. It was conceded that the warrant provisions of the SCA did not permit nor contemplate extraterritorial application. Indeed, the focus of the warrant provisions was upon protecting the privacy interest of users in their stored communications.

Under the focus on privacy if there were to be a warrant issued, the invasion of privacy would take place where the protected content of the customer was accessed which was in the Irish datacenter. That conduct – accessing the data – would take place outside the US, regardless of the fact that Microsoft was a US company. The Court held that the text of the statute, its legislative history, the use of the particular term “warrant” all lead to the conclusion that an SCA warrant could only apply to data held within the boundaries of the US.

It must be remembered that the decision is within the context of a particular statute which had a significant privacy purpose behind it. There are other ways to obatin the information sought such as the application of Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaties or the provisions of the Convention on Cybercrime 2001 – assuming a State is a signatory and has adopted those treaties into domestic law.

Applicability in New Zealand

Do the provisions of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 have an extraterritorial reach in the case of computer searches.

Extraterritorial Searches?

There is one school of thought which says that it does, based on the very broad definition of a computer system which could conceivably include the Internet. A properly obtained warrant search warrant or remote access search warrant would allow an investigator to look for and locate data hosted in servers offshore.

In its considerations of search and surveillance procedures the Law Commission suggested that cross border searches could be specifically authorised under a search warrant. In my view that raises some very real difficulties, especially where there are no mutual assistance arrangements in place – although New Zealand has enacted the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992. The proper course would be to use the provisions of that Act.

The Law Commission acknowledged that while principles of territorial sovereignty should be recognised to the maximum extent possible, observation of such principles may be impossible where the identity of the relevant jurisdiction is unknown.

The suggestion that search warrant authorisation would cure jurisdictional problems arising in a remote cross border search does not, in my view, solve the problem. The Law Commission suggested that if a remote cross border search was sought a warrant application:

(a) would require disclosure of that fact,

(b) that the search was or would likely to be a cross border search,

(c) together with the nature of any mutual assistance arrangements with the relevant country if the identity of that country was known.

Where a warrant was issued without specific authorisation for a cross border search, the enforcement agency would have to return to the issuing officer for further authorisation for a cross border search. Such a situation might become apparent in the course of executing the initial search warrant. This is the preferred option for the Law Commission given the “inconclusive state” of international law.

In the case of Stevenson v R, [2012] NZCA 189.the police applied for a search warrant addressed to Microsoft for records that were kept in the USA. The request was directed to Microsoft in New Zealand who forwarded it to the American parent. The appellant challenged the issue of the warrant. The court held as follows:

‘Fourth, Mr Haskett submits that the warrant issued against Microsoft should be ruled invalid and the evidence obtained from that source excluded. He relies on the same grounds advanced in support of the challenge to the search warrant, which we have rejected. Additionally, however, he submits that the warrant for Microsoft was invalid because it purported to authorise search in the United States of America. The answer to that submission is, as Mr Ebersohn points out, that the Summary Proceedings Act does not require a warrant to be limited to the New Zealand jurisdiction although of course it could not be practically enforced outside of New Zealand.’ [2012] NZCA 189 at [57]

Could this approach – without any developed reasoning – be applied under the Search and Surveillance Act and particularly to remote access searches? The determinative language of the court would suggest it does.

Using the Court’s reasoning in Stevenson a remote access warrant, like a warrant under the Summary Proceedings Act, may not be limited to the New Zealand jurisdiction. No reference to a presumption of territorial application – which was a significant feature in Microsoft Ireland – was mentioned. Indeed the reverse proposition seems to be the position – if the Summary Proceedings Act did not provide that a warrant be limited to New Zealand, it had extraterritorial effect. That flies directly in the fact of established principle which is that the statute must expressly authorise extraterritoral application.

A Forgotten Fundamental Principle of Law

But just because the technology allows it, should extraterritorial searches just happen? Should the issue of a search warrant allow an extraterritorial remote access search, and should the fruits thereof be admissible? A strict ‘crime control’ approach would suggest an affirmative response.

On the other hand a principled approach that recognises the broader issues of the Rule of Law must recognise that there is a customary international law prohibition on conducting investigations in the territory of another state. (see Michael A. Sussman, ‘The Critical Challenges from International High-tech and Computer-related Crime at the Millennium’ Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law Volume 9, Number 2 (Spring 1999), 451 – 489.)

Remote access searches may violate territorial integrity and, whatever the constitutional constraints that exist within the searching country, such searches are prohibited as violations of international law. Notwithstanding the utopian vision of a separate jurisdiction for cyberspace, the reality is that data has a physical location within the territorial jurisdiction of a state.

And this brings us back to the fundamental principle. It was stated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. I referred to it a couple of paragraphs ago. If a domestic law is to have extraterritorial effect the statute must clearly say so. It cannot have that effect by some back door interpretation of what amounts to a computer system. This principle of law is hardly “inconclusive”.

Section 144A of the Crimes Act 1961 (NZ) has extraterritorial effect. It deals with sexual conduct with children and young people outside New Zealand. It is clear a clear and unequivocal assertion of extraterritorial application.

It is perhaps astonishing that this elementary principle has been overlooked not only by the Law Commission but also by the Court of Appeal in R v Stevenson.

There are ways of conducting offshore searches both in the digital and real word spaces. The utilisation of Mutual Assistance Treaties under the 1992 Act is one way. Or perhaps it is time to consider adopting the Convention on Cybercrime to adopt a principled approach to the access of data offshore.

Thinking About Mastermind

About thirty-five years ago I had a bit of success in the TV quiz show Mastermind. It was an interesting journey.

The show continued here in New Zealand and then went off the screen towards the end of the 1980’s or early 1990’s. It has now been revived. And it is different, as one would imagine it would be. Times change and so do entertainment styles. And some things remain the same.

When I did Mastermind the format was two minutes on a specialist subject of one’s choice followed by two minutes of general knowledge questions. The winners of the eight preliminary rounds went to the semi-final. We were required to change specialist subject. Otherwise the format remained the same. The winner and runner-up made it through to the final. The current format reverses that process. The winners and eight other top scorers go through to the four semi-final rounds. Only the winners of the semi-final rounds make it to the final. And for the semi-final the specialist subject must change.

The trick with Mastermind was to answer as many questions correctly as possible within the two minutes. This meant maximising the number of questions asked. There were ways to do this. The first involved knowing what you don’t know and passing as quickly as possible – even if it mean interrupting the question. The other way was to get the answer out as quickly as possible if you did know it – and if you could get the correct answer out before the question finished so much the better – even if it is a bit rude to interrupt.

The current series of Mastermind screening on TV1 is far more polite. Contestants have to wait until the questioner has finished. Some of them have interrupted, but the questioner proceeds to finish the question. A bit strange and pedestrian in my opinion and certainly inhibits a fast paced round. And definitely inhibits building up a decent score.

On the subject of questions and pace I must say that the questions seem to be incredibly long and contain too much information. Surely it is better to ask for a simple fact than to preface the question with information that is not directly relevant to the answer. An example (and I have concocted this) would be “What were Gandalf’s last words to the Fellowship on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum” Brief, punchy and to the point. And there is only one answer. But question construction in the TV1 series means that the question would probably be phrased in this way, “As the Fellowship were fleeing from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria on their way to Lothlorien, what were Gandalf’s last words on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum” And the answer is the same. “Fly you fools!” But that answer doesn’t need all the prefatory stuff. And the problem is that this slows down the pace, prevents the accumulation of points and means more time is spent asking individual questions than really testing the contestant’s knowledge.

The format of the current show allows 90 seconds on the specialist subject, 90 seconds on general knowledge and 90 seconds on a New Zealand general knowledge topic. I don’t understand the addition of the New Zealand section unless it is to make the show “relevant” but general knowledge is general knowledge irrespective of location and when I did the show there were New Zealand general knowledge questions included – no need for a special round. Once again, 90 seconds is not really long enough to build up a decent score. If anyone has watched other quiz shows, especially The Chase, it will be obvious that once a contestant gets into rhythm of answering, more questions get answered and the tension – and the points – build up. An extra 30 seconds makes all the difference.

I understand that “commercial necessity” means that there have to be advertisements but I can’t understand why the placement of those announcements must be in the middle of each round. Murder on the contestants and once again slows down the pace of the show.

But it is still a great format. The filming location under the clock tower at Auckland University is different and appropriate. The show is entertaining and good on the contestants for giving it a shot – sitting in an exposed position under a bright light and having questions come out of the dark is quite tense. The show was inspired by the experiences of the originator being interrogated by the Gestapo in World War II. Whilst the tension is, shall we say, different, it is still there. Maybe a return to the original formula might increase the drama and the thrill and the tension, at least for the audience. And good luck to all concerned.

The Confrontation Right and Technology

The case of New Mexico v Thomas came across my desk this morning. The  blog post that alterted me to it was primarily about judicial use of social media but the first sentence caught my eye. It stated that an appeal against conviction in a murder case was overturned because an expert witness for the prosecution testified via Skype, which the Court held violated the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution.

The “confrontation clause” requires the physical presence of witnesses at a criminal trial. There was a proposal to amend the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2004, allowing unavailable witnesses to testify via two-way video. Justice Scalia said:

I cannot comprehend how one-way transmission . . . becomes transformed into full-fledged confrontation when reciprocal transmission is added. As we made clear in Craig, [497 U.S.] at 846-47, a purpose of the Confrontation Clause is ordinarily to compel accusers to make their accusations in the defendant’s presence—which is not equivalent to making them in a room that contains a television set beaming electrons that portray the defendant’s image. Virtual  confrontation might be sufficient to protect virtual constitutional rights; I doubt whether it is sufficient to protect real ones.

In the United States it is very difficult in light of the strength of the confrontation clause to have a witness testify via video-link. Technology can provide the necessary ability to “confront” via video link. Many of the obstructions to the proper evaluation of information needed by a fact-finder to arrive at a conclusion arise from practices rooted in the ritualised oral procedures of evidence giving that have surrounded the criminal jury trial. These procedures were perfectly satisfactory in an era where communication imperatives and an absence of the range of communication technologies present today mandated the “physical presence participation” model of the criminal jury trial.

It is my argument that the essential elements of the confrontation right may be maintained through the use of information technologies whilst dispensing with the inconveniences and costs of the “physical presence participation” model.

The justification for witnesses to be physically present in the Court for examination is no longer relevant when “virtual presence” by means of a high definition screen can enable a better and clearer view of a witness than is possible from a jury box across a courtroom to the witness stand. The questionable value of demeanour suggests that this justification for presence is at best arguable and in reality is a fallacy.[1] One could go so far as to suggest that video-conferencing technology may make it possible for witnesses to give evidence from remote locations and for the accused to be “virtually present” without compromising rights. “Visual presence” may replace “physical presence.”

Audio-visual (or videoconferencing) technology dispenses with the need for physical presence because it maintains the essential aspects of the confrontation right. The accused is able to hear the evidence that is given. There is the ability for cross examination. The availability of high definition screens means that there will be little if any image distortion for the accused or other participants located elsewhere.

In addition the provision of technology should pose little difficulty. There are a number of “video-conference” technologies available. At the moment New Zealand Courts use a dedicated Voice\Video over IP system that is effective but expensive and is not widely available.

In late May 2014 I participated in a test of video-conferencing software and electronic bundle software in a mock international trial.[2] All the participants were scattered – Auckland, New Zealand, Washington DC, London, Croydon and Edinburgh. The communications software used was Microsoft Lync  – now Skype for Business – and the Electronic Bundle was provided by Caselines, a product of Netmaster Solutions, an English company. The trial rapidly established the feasibility of the software tools, both of which are reasonably priced and are browser based which meant that no additional software needed to be installed on a user’s computer. In addition, the software meant that place did not matter – a classic example of the application of spatial technologies. From a technological and practical point of view, a remote hearing is possible, practical and feasible.

The use of video-conferencing or audio-visual technology is relatively common throughout the English and Commonwealth Courts. Section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (UK) allows evidence to be given by a witness (other than the accused) by way of “live television link.” Leave is required if the witness is overseas. There is provision for pre-recorded testimony pursuant to section 27 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Rule 32 of the Civil Procedure Rules in England allow for evidence in civil proceedings to be given via video-link.[3]

The criminal Code of Canada contains provisions governing the reception of evidence by video and audio. The Canada Evidence Act applies to non-criminal matters under Federal law and if provincial statutes are silent, federal law is adopted. Individual Courts may have rules relating to the reception of evidence.[4] Australian Courts have deployed video-conferencing for court proceedings and the taking of evidence and for pre-trial matters – not unsurprising given the vast distances in that country.

However, despite what is clearly widespread use of video-conferencing in a number of jurisdictions there is still hesitancy, even among legislators. In the debate about the introduction of the Courts Remote Participation Act 2010 objections to AVL use had two major themes. The first, as may be expected, related to the confrontation right and the “physical presence” rule implied by s.25(e) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The other related to some of the technological shortcomings surrounding the use of AVL. There was little opposition to AVL being used for procedural hearings but there was considerable objection to its use for a substantive hearing.

One suggestion was that without physical presence an accused could not keep tabs on the “cozy” conversation between counsel, the inattentive or snoozing juror or, worse still, the sleeping judge or that the camera may not be playing on the key participants at a vital stage. Such a suggestion ignores split screen and multi camera technology, along with voice activated cameras and swivelling cameras. The days of a single static camera are long gone. At no stage in the debate did there seem to be a consideration of the advantages or shortcomings of the use of technology to fulfil the purposes of the Bill of Rights Act or the Evidence Act. Rather, the visceral reaction was based upon the outrageous suggestion that a trial could take place other than in the physical presence of the accused.[5] A proper and informed debate on the use of technology in the Court system would have been preferable..

[1] Robert Fisher QC “The Demeanour Fallacy” [2014] NZ Law Review 575 at 582. See also Chris Gallavin “Demeanour Evidence as the backbone of the adversarial process” Lawtalk Issue 834 14 March 2014 http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/lawtalk/issue-837/demeanour-evidence-as-the-backbone-of-the-adversarial-process (last accessed 20 June 2014); Professor Ian R Coyle “How Do Decision Makers Decide When Witnesses Are Telling The Truth And What Can Be Done To Improve Their Accuracy In Making Assessments Of Witness Credibility?” Report to the Criminal Lawyers Association of Australia and New Zealand” 3 April 2013 p. 8; On the subject of demeanour generally see Professor Coyles extensive bibliography. See also Lindsley Smith” Juror Assessment of Veracity, Deception, and Credibility,” http://www.uark.edu/depts/comminfo/CLR/smith1.html

[2] For reports see http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/5041446.article?utm_source=dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GAZ020614   http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-etrials-of-the-future-judges-take-part-in-pilot-that-could-revolutionise-court-system-9474101.html and for an interview with Judge Simon Brown QC on the effectiveness of the trial see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7r8RUwORvkc&feature=youtu.be

[3] Information on video-conferencing in the English Courts can be found here https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/video-conferences

[4] For example the Court in Ontario may order that a hearing be conducted in whole or in part by means of a telephone conference call, video-conference or any other form of electronic communication, and “The Court may give directions to facilitate the conduct of a hearing by the use of any electronic or digital means of communication or storage or retrieval of information, or any other technology it considers appropriate.”

[5] For the debates see  Hansard Vol 664, p. 12266 http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/debates/debates/49HansD_20100629_00001172/courts-remote-participation-bill-%E2%80%94-second-reading ; Hansard 30 June 2010 Vol 664 p. 12349 http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/debates/debates/49HansD_20100630_00001105/courts-remote-participation-bill-%E2%80%94-in-committee ;

 

A Digital Progress – Court Technology – A Twenty-Seven Year Overview

This is a post that I wrote as a Guest blogger for the IITP Blog under the title “Courting Technology” and it subsequently appeared in the National Business Review.

When I left practice to join the District Court Bench at the end of 1988, computers were being used primarily for word processing and office administration and accounting, although some of us were developing uses for computers to put together database and legal reference materials. There was no publicly accessible Internet. But some of us saw the potential for computer use within the law. Upon appointment to the Bench I gave some thought to the way that computers could become part of judicial activity.

A very helpful tool that is provided for Judges upon appointment is what is called a Benchbook. This may consist of a number of helpful or summarised guides for commonly encountered issues or problems that a Judge may need to address. Benchbooks were provided in hardcopy and sometimes ran to several volumes depending upon specialist jurisdictions or Courts over which a Judge may preside. Benchbooks are now provided in electronic format.

One of the first things that I did was transform Benchbook material into digital format and I began to develop a number of other electronic reference materials as well.

I was not the only judge who could see a digital future for the Judiciary and within a year of my appointment there were discussions among some Judges to bring computers if not onto the Bench at least into Judges Chambers. There was a reasonably positive response from the Ministry of Justice and a “Computers for Judges” program was put in place. Early laptop computers – orange screen Toshiba “luggables” began to find their way on to judicial desks. Although these machines may not stack up beside today’s high powered slim line notebooks, they were certainly the newest and latest technology at the time.

A group of Judges led by Justice Robert Fisher developed a set of judicial case management and record-keeping tools known as the Judicial Workstation. This utility also had a facility to store decided or completed cases to which reference might later be made. About the time that there were discussions about setting up LANs and WANs for the Courts and the Judges to enable sharing of materials and cases. Then the Internet arrived.

By the early 2000’s computerisation was a vital part of the Court process. Case management systems were in place in the back office, decision databases were being developed and digital systems designed to make judicial working more efficient were being developed.

One of the essential tools for lawyers and judges is an accurate reliable database of caselaw. Pre-digital paradigm, this material was made available in print in law reports but the development of caselaw databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw provided a larger quantity of material that could be the subject of targeted searches. The Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary began to develop databases of decided cases which would be made available for reference by Judges and in time much of this material was made publicly available via the Judicial Decisions Online website https://forms.justice.govt.nz/jdo/Introduction.jsp

Parliamentary Counsel’s office developed a website providing on-line access to New Zealand legislation. http://www.legislation.govt.nz/ The project was not without its difficulties but the site is reliable, authoritative and provides free access to legislation to all New Zealand citizens who are connected to the Internet.

Sadly some of the early promises of technological innovation have not yet been realised. The paperless court – a goal that has been on the books for many years – has not eventuated, and although there are informal processes available for filing documents electronically, a one-stop website for filing case materials has not yet eventuated. Another tool that was to provide a fully electronic court was the E-Bench which would enable Judges to record the progress of a case electronically rather than on a paper. It is to be hoped that these innovations will be realised in the future.

In my time on the Bench I have seen remarkable developments in the use of technology. When I was appointed virtually all the processes involving the running of the Court were manual, involving handwritten or typed records. Today there are evidence presentation technologies used regularly in Court. The use of audio-visual technologies allows “appearances” by parties and witnesses to take place via video-link. Technology is employed to make the process of giving evidence less traumatic for vulnerable witnesses. Media guidelines have been developed by Judges to enable cameras in Court to cover trials. The Courts have developed a website – the Courts of News Zealand http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/ which provides a one-stop shop to ascertain details of the Courts, the Judges, recent decisions of public interest and court sitting calendars and case summaries. In a very recent innovation, the Courts of NZ have a twitter presence @CourtsofNZ.

The future is promising for the continued innovative use of technology to improve Court processes and provide proper access to justice for New Zealanders.

From Theory to Practice – Software Models and Evidence for the Online Court

In the paper below I look at some of the ways in which technology may be applied to proposals for on-line Courts.

The proposals by Richard Susskind the JUSTICE paper and Lord Justice Sir Michael Briggs are based upon the availability of technical solutions to fulfil the promise inherent in the new models for resolving disputes. I emphasise that in using that phrase I envisage, as did Professor Susskind, the dispute resolution model to function within the established Court process rather than as a stand alone alternative to the Court process.

A consideration of the deployment of technology within the Court process first requires a recognition of the way in which technology can reflect or replace current processes. The Online Court proposals that have been put forward suggest significant process change but represent high level strategy. What I consider is a slightly more practical overview of some of the ways in which technology may be deployed. In addition there are issues surrounding the handling of digital evidence which will require consideration.

 

Forgetfulness and the Clean Slate – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm IX

Introduction

The law of obligations, in a most general sense, is the subject of civil disputes that arise between individuals or corporate bodies. Obligations may arise from the common law or from statute. But apart from providing a forum for the resolution of these disputes – the Courts – the State plays little or no active role.

The situation is different with offences created by statute for which a penalty is provided. In a most general sense these are described as crimes but from a purely literalist perspective, crimes are only those offences created by the Crimes Act 1961. Of course offences like dealing in or importing Class A drugs, offences against the Misuse of Drugs Act carry with them penalties as severe as those prescribed under the Crimes Act.

In essence what underlies an offence is that the behaviour prohibited falls below the bottom line of acceptable behaviour in a society, and which society deems should be the subject of prosecution by the State on behalf of the community. The penalties imposed by law following upon a conviction reflect the odium with which society views the behaviour.

The gravity of the behaviour is often measured by the nature of the penalty imposed and the way in which offences may be classified. Crimes as set out in the Crimes Act 1961 involve offences where the penalty of 1 year’s imprisonment or more may be imposed. Offences under the Summary Offence Act 1981, dealing with matters such as disorderly behaviour or low level assault or threatening behaviour carry penalties of a fine or a short term of imprisonment – up to 3 months for most although 6 months imprisonment is the maximum for Summary Offences assault.

The Land Transport Act also has offences involving the use of motor vehicles which carry penalties of fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving. There is a graduated scale of penalties of potential imprisonment and disqualification for repeat drink drive or driving while disqualified offenders.

And it must be noted that with certain very limited exceptions a penalty cannot be imposed without a conviction being entered. The entry of a conviction of itself carries a certain stigma. Overseas travellers will be familiar with immigration documents that ask whether or not the traveller has been convicted of an offence and different countries have different policies about who they will let in who have been convicted a certain offences. Convictions for offences may also affect an individual’s job prospects, or how and to what extent he or she may engage in community activities. The presence of a conviction carries its own stigma.

By the same token a conviction sends a message about an individual. A person who has repeat offences for dishonesty demonstrates a tendency towards dishonest behaviour. Would that particular fox be placed in the henhouse of a banking job or a position where an accounting for money was required. On the other hand, youthful indiscretions – disorderly behaviour by a group of students celebrating their graduation – may be the only blot upon an otherwise clean copybook. Should a person who leads an exemplary life for years after some stupid low level misbehaviour that amounts to an offence, carry that mariner’s albatross for the rest of his or her life.

The Clean Slate Act

The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 sets up a clean slate scheme. Under the clean slate scheme an eligible individual

(a) is deemed to have no criminal record for the purposes of any question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record; and

(b) has the right to have his or her criminal record concealed by government departments and law enforcement agencies that hold or have access to his or her criminal record.

The Act is not that easy to understand but eligibility is the key component. Eligibility is acquired under section 7 and requires a number of boxes to be ticked. Shortly summarised these are

  • There must be the completion of a rehabilitation period and
  • No custodial sentence has ever been imposed; and
  • No orders have been made under legislation dealing with mental competence issues and criminal liability and
  • The person has not been convicted of a specified offence set out in section 4 of the Clean Slate Act; and
  • Where a fine or reparation has been imposed, those amounts have been paid; and
  • In the case of an order for compensation, that amount has been paid or remitted and
  • No order for indefinite disqualification has been imposed.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of the above criteria if the definition of a rehabilitation period. In relation to an individual, that means any period of not less than 7 consecutive years after the date on which the individual was last sentenced, or a specified order was last made, in which the individual has not been convicted of an offence. Thus a rehabilitation period is 7 consecutive years without reoffending.

Interestingly enough the Act is silent on what offences qualify for clean slate protection. It is NOT silent on the offences which do not qualify and those specified offences involve a range of sexual and indecency offences. Thus it is possible that a person who is convicted of burglary and who fulfils all the criteria list above could claim clean slate protection. What is difficult for many is where a custodial offence has been imposed, not necessarily for the particular offence but for any offence, or where an order for indefinite disqualification has been imposed. To qualify for clean slate protection a person must fulfil each of the seven criteria.

The Effect of the Clean Slate

Section 14 provides in detail the effect of the Cleans Slate.

  • If an individual is an eligible individual, he or she is deemed to have no criminal record for the purposes of any question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record.
  • An eligible individual may answer a question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record by stating that he or she has no criminal record.
  • Nothing in subsection 1 or 2 above—
  • prevents an eligible individual stating that he or she has a criminal record, disclosing his or her criminal record, or consenting to the disclosure of his or her criminal record; or
  • authorises an individual to answer a question asked of him or her about his or her criminal record by stating that he or she has no criminal record if the question is asked—
  • under the jurisdiction of the law of a foreign country while an eligible individual is outside New Zealand; or
  • while he or she is in New Zealand but relates to a matter dealt with by the law of a foreign country (for example, a question asked on an application form by the immigration or customs agency of a foreign country).

It will be noted particularly that the Clean Slate provisions really only are effective in New Zealand. A person cannot invoke the Clean Slate provisions if they are entering a foreign country where a question is asked about previous convictions. In those circumstances, convictions must be disclosed.

It should also be noted that section 19 sets out specific exceptions to the applicability of the Clean Slate regime.

Publication and the Clean Slate

The Clean Slate Act – sections 9 and 10 – allows individuals to apply to the Court for exemption from the rehabilitation period or that a conviction be disregarded in certain circumstances. Section 13 of the Act prima facie prohibits publication of the name of an applicant for such exemptions or any particulars leading to the identification of the applicant. However these details may be published in certain limited circumstances.

If a person has access to criminal records and discloses the criminal record of an eligible person a finable offence is committed.

If the person requires or requests that an individual—

  • disregard the effect of the clean slate scheme when answering a question about his or her criminal record; or
  • disregard the effect of the clean slate scheme and disclose, or give consent to the disclosure of, his or her criminal record

then a finable offence is committed.

The Right to be Forgotten

When the applicability of the European concept of the right to be forgotten is discussed in the context of New Zealand, the Clean Slate Act is advanced as an example. However, the Clean Slate Act in some ways goes further than the Google Spain decision. Remember, Google Spain was about deindexing Mr Costeja-Gonzales name from associations with a public notice that appeared in the La Vanguardia newspaper. It did not eliminate the article – the primary information – itself.

The Clean Slate Act goes well beyond that. It effectively gives a right to be forgotten in the sense that the eligible individual does not have to disclose a previous conviction if it falls within the Act, can effectively deny such conviction exists although the power of disclosure remains with the individual. This means that the Act allows the eligible individual to redefine him or herself in respect of facts of earlier criminal conviction.

As the law stands at the moment, the power lies with the individual to disclose or not disclose. In that respect the eligible individual controls the right to be forgotten. However, the disclosure of the criminal conviction of an eligible individual amounts to an offence only if it is made by a person who has access to criminal records and a criminal record is defined as a record kept by or on behalf of the Crown. Information acquired by newspapers in the course of Court reporters, bloggers or website hosts who publish cases, naming an individual who has been convicted, and who subsequently becomes eligible, commit no offence.

Publicists in that case commit no offence by publishing the name of a person appearing before the Court contemporaneously with the event. The problem has now become (and was on the horizon in 2004 when the legislation was enacted) associated with the preservative power of digital technologies and the concept of the document or information that does not die. A Google search may reveal the name of an eligible person and hyperlink to the blog, website or online newspaper. So should there be deindexing of the names of eligible persons where the linked to sites contain information about previous convictions? Or should the source information be taken down?

There are a number of thorny issues surrounding this including freedom of the press, the neutrality of Internet based searches along with the underlying integrity of the Clean Slate Act. And this problem has come to the attention of the Privacy Commissioner.

Privacy Concerns

The concerns of the Privacy Commission are expressed in the following way:

A number of newspapers in New Zealand have a practice of publishing the names and conviction details of everyone prosecuted in the local court. This includes those convictions covered by the Clean Slate Act.

This effectively nullifies the intended effect of the Act for these people, as most newspapers are now online as well as in print. A quick Google search for someone’s name can unearth details that were suppressed by the Clean Slate Act.

Further, the newspapers that publish the details of petty crime tend to be in smaller towns, as it’s impractical for larger metropolitan newspapers to print the details of every conviction. So the Clean Slate Act effectively increases the consequences of relatively minor offences for people who live in small towns. This does not seem fair, particularly in the context of the economic opportunity gap between urban and rural New Zealand.

This issue is one of the loose collection of issues covered by the still-developing idea of the “right to be forgotten,” which we wrote about in 2014.  That is, the idea that some public information might become private after a certain amount of time has passed.

The Clean Slate Act was one of New Zealand’s first “right to be forgotten” laws. Perhaps it is time to look at what responsibility media have to let people move on. If a quick Google search is all it takes to find someone’s past transgressions, then in practical terms, their slate isn’t very clean at all.

 Concluding Thoughts

This post is not a critique about the policies behind the Clean Slate Act nor is it part of a newly heralded debate about a review of that legislation. Rather my purpose is to raise a few issues that need to be considered.

The first is this. Removing information from the Internet is at best an inadequate solution. The information may be located in a number of places and the disseminatory qualities of digital technologies mean that the information may be removed from an online news site, but it may still be available on social media platforms, possibly YouTube or on any one of a number of blog sites. So the effectiveness of the proposal is an issue that must be considered.

The second issue is whether or not the obscurity that is sought by removal of online content will achieve its objective. Newspaper archives and hard copy retains the information, albeit in a form more difficult to access than that placed on the Internet.

The third issue is one to which I have already referred. Freedom of the press and the associated right of the public to know the business of the Courts as an arm of Government per medium the newspaper as proxy is a jealously guarded right and one which will not be easily yielded by the news media. Newspapers provide an important record of community activities from an historical and social point of view in addition to their role as public surrogates. The information that they contain is of continuing interest. And it must be remembered that the Clean Slate Act vests the right of invocation in the hands of the eligible individual. It does not prohibit enquiry by a third party into a person’s past of sources other than the eligible person.

And that gives rise to a fourth issue and it is that a freedom of expression – the right guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to impart and receive information. Care  must be exercised if interference with that right is contemplated.

So what is a person to do – someone who is eligible to invoke Clean Slate but whose previous conviction is on a newspaper website and who, as a consequence, is finding it difficult to get a job. If the circumstances are such that the person is caused harm – serious emotional distress – as a result of continued frustration in finding a job – the provisions of the Harmful Digital Communications Act could be available and, if all the criteria are satisfied may beinvoked. Truth is not a defence to a takedown order under that Act and it may well be that the initial intercession by the Approved Agency will arrive at a satisfactory result.

Whatever follows from this interesting but controversial proposal will be an interesting debate and one which once again will match existing social policy with the realities of the Digital Paradigm

Further Obscurity on the Internet – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm VIII

 

Introduction

Yet again a Court of law has made an order against Google, requiring it to deindex search results in a particular case. This example does not deal with the so-called “right to be forgotten” but with issues surrounding efforts by one company to infringe the intellectual property rights of another. But Google’s involvement in this case as not as a party to the action. They were not involved. No wrongdoing by them was alleged. All they did was provide index links via their automated processes. These links were to the infringers. An injunction was sought to compel de-indexing not just in the country where the case was heard but world wide.

Equustek v Jack

Equustek v Jack came before the British Columbia Supreme Court in 2014. The circumstances of the case were these.

Equustek manufactured electronic networking devices for industrial use.  A company named Datalink created a competing product. Equustek claimed that one of its former employees conspired with Datalink, and the competing product used Equustek’s trade secrets and trademarks.

Equustek commenced proceedings against Datalink and a number of individual defendants.  The Datalink defendants did not play any part in the litigation and their defences were struck out but they continued to sell products from a number of websites.

Pending trial the Supreme Court made a number of interlocutory orders against the defendants including an  order prohibiting the defendants from dealing with Equustek’s intellectual property. Even the issue of a criminal arrest warrant against one of the defendants did not stop the sale of the disputed products on the web from undisclosed locations.

So far the case is procedurally unremarkable. But what happened next is quite extraordinary. Equustek turned to Google and asked it to stop indexing the defendant’s websites worldwide. Google voluntarily removed 345 URLs from search results on Google.ca. But the problem remained. Almost all the infringing material was still available online. So Equustek took the matter a step further.

Remember, Google was not a party to the original suit. They had not been involved in the allegations of intellectual property infringement . Google’s response to Equustek’s approach was a co-operative one. They did not have to comply with Equustek’s request.

Equustek sought an order from the Court restraining Google from  displaying any part of the websites with which it was concerned on any search results worldwide. The order was in the nature of an interlocutory injunction. The grounds for the application were that Google’s search engine facilitated the defendants’ ongoing breach of court orders.

Google argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over Google or should decline jurisdiction, In any event it should not issue the requested injunction. The Court observed that the application raised  novel questions about the Court’s authority to make such an order against a global internet service provider.

The court held that it had jurisdiction over Google because Google, through its search engine and advertising business, carried on business in British Columbia. This in itself is not remarkable. It is consistent with the theory of connection with the forum jurisdiction and the concept of the grounding of activities in the forum state that gives rise to  a Court’s jurisdictional competence. Cases abound arising from e-commerce and Internet based business activities.

The court considered that Google’s search engine websites were not passive information sites, but rather were interactive and displayed targeted advertisements. The court noted that this rationale might give every state in the world jurisdiction over Google’s search services, but noted that was a consequence of a multinational doing business on a global scale rather than from a flaw in the territorial competence analysis.

Again this is a reality of jurisdictional theory. In the Australian defamation case of Dow Jones v Gutnick it was observed that a cause of action might lie in every country where publication of the defamatory article had taken place. Mr Gutnick undertook to commence only in Australia because that is where his reputation lay and needed to be vindicated.

The court also refused to decline jurisdiction over Google, because Google failed to establish that another jurisdiction (California) was a more appropriate forum and the court could effectively enforce its order against Google outside Canada. This is what is called a forum conveniens argument – it will arise in the context not of whether or not a court has jurisdiction but where jurisdiction may lie in two states (in this case British Columbia, Canada and California, United States of America) which court should properly hear the case.

The Court found that it had authority to grant an injunction with extra-territorial effect against a non-party resident in a foreign jurisdiction if it is just or convenient to do so.

The judge observed that new circumstances require adaptation of existing remedies  – an aspect of the reality of e-commerce with its potential for abuse. This would be especially so if there was to be any credibility and integrity of Court orders.

The court then considered the test for ordering an injunction against a third party. The standard test was modified.

 (1) a good arguable case or fair question to be tried (which relates to the plaintiff’s claim against defendant); and

 (2) a balancing of the interests (irreparable harm and convenience) of the plaintiff and the non-party to whom the injunction would apply.

The court identified a number of relevant considerations, including

  1. whether the third party is somehow involved in the defendant’s wrongful acts;
  2. whether the order against the third party is the only practicable means to obtain the relief sought;
  3. whether the third party can be indemnified for the costs to which it will be exposed by the order;
  4. whether the interests of justice favour the granting of the order; and
  5. the degree to which the interests of persons other than the applicant and the non-party could be affected.

The court granted the injunction against Google requiring Google to block the defendants’ websites (identified in the court order) from Google’s search engine results worldwide finding that Google was unwittingly facilitating the defendants’ ongoing breaches of court orders, and there was no other practical way to stop the defendants.

Google appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal who upheld the order issued at first instance.

Equustek v Google

The Court of Appeal observed that it is unusual for courts to grant remedies against persons who are not parties to an action. The reasons for this are obvious – most civil claims are concerned with the vindication of a right, and the remedial focus will be on that right. Further, notions of justice demand that procedural protections be afforded to a person against whom a remedy is sought. The usual method of providing such protections is to require the claimant to bring an action against the respondent, giving the respondent the rights of a party.

However, this does not mean that the Courts are powerless to issue orders against non-parties. What is known as a Norwich Pharmcal order was cited as an example. There are, in fact, many types of orders that are routinely made against non-parties – subpoenas to witnesses, summonses for jury duty and garnishing orders are common examples. Many of these orders have a statutory basis or are purely procedural, but others derive from the inherent powers of the court or are more substantive in nature.

The Appeal Court observed that Canadian courts have jurisdiction to grant injunctions in cases where there is a justiciable right, even if the court is not, itself, the forum where the right will be determined. Canadian courts have also long recognized that injunctions aimed at maintaining order need not be directed solely to the parties to the litigation.

Google argued that the Court should not grant an injunction with extraterritorial effect. It submitted

As a matter of law, the court is not competent to regulate the activities of non-residents in foreign jurisdictions. This competence-limiting rule is dictated both by judicial pragmatism and considerations of comity. The pragmatic consideration is that the court should not make an order that it cannot enforce. The comity consideration is that the court refrains from purporting to direct the activities of persons in other jurisdictions and expects courts in other jurisdictions to reciprocate.

The Court did not accept that the case law establishes the broad proposition that the court is not competent to regulate the activities of non-residents in foreign jurisdictions.

The Court noted that the case exhibited a sufficient real and substantial connection to British Columbia to be properly within the jurisdiction of the Province’s courts.

From a comity perspective, the question must be whether, in taking jurisdiction over the matter, British Columbia courts have failed to pay due respect to the right of other courts or nations. The only comity concern that was articulated in this case was the concern that the order made by the trial judge could interfere with freedom of expression in other countries. For that reason, there had to be considerable caution in making orders that might place limits on expression in another country. The Court stated that where there is a realistic possibility that an order with extraterritorial effect may offend another state’s core values, the order should not be made.

In considering the issue of freedom of expression the Court noted that there was no realistic assertion that the judge’s order would offend the sensibilities of any other nation.

It was not suggested that the order prohibiting the defendants from advertising wares that violate the intellectual property rights of the plaintiffs offended the core values of any nation. The Court noted that the order made against Google is a very limited ancillary order designed to ensure that the plaintiffs’ core rights are respected.

The Court also noted that there were a number of cases where orders had been made with international implications. Cases such as APC v. Auchan Telecom, 11/60013, Judgment (28 November 2013) (Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris); McKeogh v. Doe (Irish High Court, case no. 20121254P); Mosley v. Google, 11/07970, Judgment (6 November 2013) (Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris); Max Mosley v. Google (see “Case Law, Hamburg District Court: Max Mosley v. Google Inc. online: Inform’s Blog Moserly v Crossley – Hamburg) and ECJ Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v. Agencia Española de Protecciób de Datos, Mario Costeja González, C-131/12 [2014], CURIA are well known to Internet lawyers.

Some of the cases involving extraterritorial implications have been controversial, such as La Ligue contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme c. La Société YAHOO!Inc., Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (May 22, 2000 and November 20, 2000), Court File No. 00/05308 and YAHOO! INC. v. La Ligue contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme, 169 F.Supp. 2d 1181 (N. Dist. Cal., 2001) rev’d 379 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir., 2004) and 433 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. en banc, 2006)).

This extensive case law does indicates that courts in other countries do not see extraterritorial orders as being unnecessarily intrusive or contrary to the interests of comity.

Commentary

Google appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and leave to appeal has been granted. Thus, there is one more act to this drama to be played out.

One issue that will need to be resolved is whether the order that was made can be even be granted against a third party not involved in any wrongful activity. If so, the test to obtain such an order will need to be determined, as well as its geographic and temporal scope.

What about the issue of access to justice? In many areas of law, courts have expressed concern that effective remedies should not be limited to individuals or companies with deep pockets. The type of order granted against Google is certainly an effective additional remedy from a plaintiff’s perspective. But are only large corporates expected to be the sole parties in cases such as these simply because they are large corporates with a high profile. Only Google seems to be a party in this case – no other search engine features.

Furthermore what are the boundaries of a Canadian court’s territorial jurisdiction. May a Canadian court order a search engine company in California to prevent users in other countries from viewing entire websites? It is also expected that Google will raise constitutional issues, specifically whether blocking search results limits access to information or freedom of expression on the Internet.

But there is more to the case than this. It involves the ability to locate Internet based information that is facilitated by search engines. This case has the same impact on the Internet as Google Spain  – its consequence is de-indexing of information.

The decision is unremarkable for its application of conflict of laws theory. But having said that, the issue of extraterritorialty is a complex one, and because other jurisdictions and Courts have made extraterritorial orders that may or may not be enforceable does not mean that such an order is correct of justified in law. The anti-Nazi organisations LICRA and UEJEF found this out when Yahoo, having had extraterritorial orders made against it in France came to the US Courts seeking a declaration that they were unenforceable. Would Google be on less firm ground if it adopts a similar course of action against Equustek – assuming that a US Court has jurisdiction?

Throttling the Web

The development of the World Wide Web was, in the vision of Tim Berners-Lee, to assist in making information available and, creating a method of accessing stored information and sharing it.  Yet it had already become clear, even pre-Web, that locating information was a problem and the solution lay in developing search engines of means of locating a specific piece or pieces of information. Search engines such as Gopher provided a form of a solution in the pre-graphical interface, pre-Web environment, and there were a number of search engines such as Altavista, Lycos, Find-What, GoTo, Excite, Infoseek, RankDex, WebCrawler Yahoo, Hotbot, Inktomi and AskJeeves that provided assistance in locating elusive content. However, the entry of Google into the marketplace, and the development of innovative search algorithms meant that Google became the default source for locating information.

What must be remembered is that Google is a search and indexing engine. It does not store the source information, other than in cached form. Using some advanced mathematics, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a method for measuring the links across websites by ranking a website more highly when other sites linked to it. Putting it very simply, the algorithm measured the popularity of a webpage. Utilising the hypertext link of Berners-Lee, Google locates content and enables a user to access it.

As a lawyer\technologist, I see Equustek v Google in the same way as I saw Google Spain – as a clog on progress that may slow the development and promise of information systems that depend upon a reliable search facility to locate information on the greatest central source of information that the world has ever known. The propositions that underlie Google Spain and Equustek and the application of law in this area amounts to a real and significant collision in the Digital Paradigm. Perhaps it is time for the Courts to understand that an automated indexing system that is completely content neutral and involves no human input into the way that it identifies and indexes should be seen as simply an intermediary and no more. Google is able to monetise its search engine  but to suggest that its search engine is not a passive information system, but rather is interactive and displays targeted advertisements in and of itself is, in my respectful view, insufficient justification to require a de-indexing of search results.