Personal Privacy and Sovereignty in Social Networks — Valdai Club

A Sovereign person also goes against Grid’s Sovereignty. Does it really exist? There may be different opinions on this issue, but in any case, social networks have certain features of dominance. Within the network, the authority of the administrator (operator, owner) is characterized by completeness, sovereignty, and independence. It has its place in cyberspace, which is like a zone. It also has its own residents – users. They all accepted user agreements and, accordingly, entered into the “nationality of the social network” and pledged to comply with these agreements.

At the same time, the social network has properties that the state does not have: a transnational nature, anonymity, public accessibility, and technological unity. Each of these characteristics deserves separate analysis.

The transnational nature of the Internet, and thus social networks, creates a state of existence, so to speak, parallel to the state, since there is no state territory in cyberspace. However, the people, as noted by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, constitute the material pillar of the state and are defined by the concept of “citizens”; They, in turn, may be users of a social network. Inevitably there must be certain interactions between the social network and the state.

In a sense, the state and the social network compete in extending their sovereignty over the individual. But if, according to the Constitution, the state is obligated to recognize, observe and protect human and civil rights, then the network will not have such an obligation. It imposes responsibilities through the user agreement. Here, too, it is like a state that, with the help of laws, obliges itself to respect the rights of the individual.

The range of possible options for interactions between the state and the social network is very wide: from ignoring, which was typical at the time when social networks began to appear, to blocking and blocking; From soft and bargaining regulations to tough regulations. However, conflict resolution with the help of national legislation collides with the cross-border activity of social networks. In particular, a crime in some countries may not be considered a crime in other countries, which means that restrictions and penalties imposed on users may be just, legal and justified in some countries, illegal and unreasonable, and infringe on the legal rights and interests of users in other countries.

Let’s consider two options for legal regulation of social networks, implemented in the European Union and the United States. The EU Regulation on Combating the Dissemination of Terrorist Content on the Internet of March 16, 2021 obliges hosting providers to remove or limit access to illegal content within an hour after receiving an order from the relevant national authorities. In other words, firstly, the obligating subject is not the owner (operator, administrator) of a social network, but a hosting provider that provides services on the territory of a particular EU member state. Secondly, the duty is not to monitor user accounts, but to comply with the requirements of the relevant state supervisory authority.

In contrast, the Communication Etiquette Act 1996, Section 230(c), imposes no obligation on the hosting provider, owner, operator, or administrator of a social network. In accordance with this statutory normative act, any provider, and therefore the owner (operator, administrator) of a social network is exempted from the responsibility to block and delete material that the provider considers obscene, corrupt, vulgar, too cruel, harassing or otherwise. It follows that, the provider has the right, but not the obligation to monitor user accounts. At the same time, he is relieved of responsibility for removing or blocking content that he himself considers illegal, and for not removing or blocking content that the state considers illegal. In other words, the provider is granted, on the one hand, media editor-in-chief rights in relation to user accounts (the right to remove any content), and, on the other hand, is discharged. From responsibility for content in user accounts, because he is not an “editor-in-chief” or “publisher of the entire social network, but only” the owner of the fence on which the ads are posted.

The models are different: in one case, the provider is obligated to comply, and in the other – it has the right to take measures to restrict the dissemination of information. The goals are also different: in the first case, we are talking about the idea of ​​terrorist content, in the second – about the freedom of judgment of a bona fide service provider, which compares American law with a “good Samaritan”. By the way, the rules of the Communications Decency Act were recently discussed in a US congressional committee, as they caused a deep split between Democrats, who demanded more censorship of dangerous and fake content, and Republicans who opposed internal censorship in networks.


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