The Technical Impact of Court Orders on Blocking Websites and Internet Services
By Miguel Ignacio Estrada, Chief Strategic Relations Officer at LACNIC
The challenge faced by operators to comply with judicial and administrative site blocking orders, which are often technically flawed, led us to organize a panel at LACNIC 40 LACNOG 2023 in order to hear the voices of those involved.
The participants (Sebastian Schoenfeld, Carlos Martínez, Lía Solís Montaño, Douglas Fernando Fischer and Ariel Graizer) concluded on the need to train judicial and administrative authorities in order to mitigate the risks associated with Internet site blocking and ensure that these authorities receive the most accurate instructions regarding operational and technical matters.
The discussions at LACNIC40 LACNOG2023 aimed to gather insights and real-life experiences from operators with respect to orders from judicial and administrative authorities to block sites that that infringe on copyright laws, distribute pirated content, or include illegal material.
According to a survey conducted prior to the panel, 85% of the operators have received orders to prevent the operation of an Internet address with illegal content.
Most of the instructions were issued by judges or judicial authorities (64%), while the remaining percentage (36%) came from administrative authorities (regulators, government agencies, etc.). Almost six out of ten operators surveyed indicated that that they found it impossible to comply with some orders due to technical errors in their drafting.
Based on our research, the primary reasons for blocking include online gambling sites; intellectual property infringement or piracy dissemination; and child sexual abuse material.
Sebastian Schoenfeld, moderator of the panel, admitted that this is an issue often faced in many countries across the region, and the associated issues can be hard to address.
Blocking presents a challenge where the Internet is influenced by external decisions, often lacking a full understanding of the Internet’s nature and functionality. This tendency to fragment the network is something we must strive to prevent,” explained Schoenfeld.
According to Lía Solis, the challenge lies in determining where the blocking should be applied, as the content is typically distributed across multiple locations. Frequently, complying with the request involves risks because it can lead to blocking other content.
Douglas Fernando Fischer emphasized that the orders received are generally not technically accurate and often hard to follow: “We need clear instructions on what we should do.” Currently, we receive orders that require us to figure out if they are correct or not, how to execute them, and what impact they might have. It’s more about uncertainties than clear instructions,” he explained.
Fischer believes that the justice system should employ a technical expert to provide guidance for Internet blocking, much like they do when dealing with structural errors in building collapses or cases of fraud against companies.
Ariel Graizer offered his insights from the perspective of infringed rights in the business. He noted piracy has a direct impact on intellectual property rights, and it’s justified for their owners to seek remedy when these rights are infringed. He provided an example of a Boca-River match, a classic in Argentine soccer, which leads to a significant surge in Internet traffic. As an operator, he finds it challenging to effectively block this traffic because pirate sources are numerous. He even mentioned that sometimes piracy occurs as the official content distribution. He mentioned the formation of an anti-piracy association in Latin America, emphasizing that it’s a crucial concern on the Internet which involves more than just technical considerations.
From his role as CTO of LACNIC, Carlos Martínez highlighted that using the wrong tool to protect intellectual property could have consequences for Internet use. Taking into account that the Internet is a large network of interconnected sub-networks, we need to be careful about the actions we take on it. He cited an example where a poorly specified block initiated in a Brazilian state was later poorly executed, causing Paraguay to lose access to WhatsApp.
After discussing with those in charge of carrying out blocking orders, the conclusion is clear: we must promote better practices and strive for precise agreements. This way, we can make sure that judicial and administrative instructions are as accurate as possible, preventing any unexpected issues across the entire network.