Continuing on a theme of mine… I was discussing Stephen Clift’s e-democracy.org forums site with a colleague (it includes an online communities for a couple of Bristol neighbourhoods and Brighton & Hove in England).
I’d assumed it was hosted in Minnesota (USA) – this is what Internic’s WhoIs tells me:
Registrant Name:Minnesota E-Democracy
Registrant Organization:Minnesota E-Democracy
Registrant Street1:2718 E. 24th Street
But it turns out that the server is likely to be in New Zealand – a fairly typical situation in fact.
So: you’ve built a community of users based in the south of England, who are content to discuss whatever people do down there (probably the local elections due this week). Since the data is on a host registered in the USA but situated in New Zealand, where can it be said that the community resides? Is it subject to the DPA or the UK’s FOI laws? Or is it entirely a USA/NZ thing? I’m not sure I’m that happy to have my democracy hosted in another country and subject to someone else’s terms of service (I know that’s putting it too strongly and Stephen Clift is a Good Guy, but it could be where we’re heading)
What would be the implications if the server was hosted in China or Singapore?
Countries (and cultures) outside the EU (or the UK, or England) have different attitudes to privacy, libel and what it is permissible to debate. Obvious example: the Nazi’s various holocausts of WWII – it’s illegal to deny them in France or Germany, but up for debate here and in the USA. The USA has a different attitude to discussion of sex or race than many EU countries, so a debate between UK residents on a UK subject that happens to be hosted in USA (or NZ) could suddenly have the plug pulled because a discussion of contraception for teenagers comes up. Alternatively, the BNP could use a USA hosted site to express political opinions that are illegal here (incitement to race hatred etc – in fact I have a feeling they have).
I know this is a special case of the wider question of internet governance, but I’ve not come across e-participation people talking about this as a risk or a factor when looking at the potential of using USA hosted services; instead, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for encouraging politicians to use YouTube, MySpace or FaceBook as a new communication route: for instance LibDem MP Steve Webb is praised for doing just that.
Maybe everyone is thinking it’s best to get people using the technology now, and then worry about the location when it becomes an issue?
1 May: Updated to add a couple of examples to try make my meaning a little clearer.