Google is waging a legal battle in Canada, which may well reshape the future of global online censorship. The tech giant went before the country's Supreme Court on 6 December to contest a lower court's ruling that the search giant censor links worldwide.
Google is appealing against a 2014 ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which forced the tech giant to remove search results across the global internet. The case initially involved a garden variety intellectual property dispute between Canadian company Equutsek Solutions and a man named Morgan Jack.
However, the case took an unusual turn when an injunction ordered Google, which was not in any way involved in the lawsuit, to remove search results linking to the defendant's websites. Google was asked to remove links not just within Canada, but from all Google search sites across the globe.
Google vs Canada censorship
According to the case summary, the main issue that Canada's Supreme Court must now deliberate is, "Under what circumstances may a court order a search engine to block search results, having regard to the interest in access to information and freedom of expression, and what limits (either geographic or temporal) must be imposed on those orders? — Do Canadian courts have the authority to block search results outside of Canada's borders?"
According to a report by Motherboard, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, live-tweeted the proceedings of the case, providing some insight into the arguments put forward by both parties.
According to a report by The Star, while Google removed the links from Canada, it refused to delete the links globally. Google, alongside Canadian privacy experts, is concerned about the global deletion request setting an alarming precedent, which may be used to curb free speech online.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a brief, supporting Google, deeming the British Columbia court's order forcing Google to block websites from search results as "setting a dangerous precedent for online free expression."
The EFF said, "The order issued by the British Columbia (BC) court failed to consider international free expression principles, and in particular, how the order would likely run afoul of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and well-established U.S. Internet policy."
In the event that the Canadian Supreme Court upholds the BC court's previous ruling, Canada's courts will then be granted a new and extensive global censorship power.