Thursday, October 11, 2012

Imperial over-reach

Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, we have lived in a world of nation-states. One result of this is that we have a multitude of different legal jurisdictions, with different laws. Generally, nation-states respect this; laws stop at the territorial limit, unless the regulated conduct directly involves their own citizens or is one of a limited number of areas where we accept (and expect) all nations to assert universal jurisdiction (e.g. torture and war crimes).

Not any more. The US has just asserted universal jurisdiction over every corporation in the world, on the grounds that those not doing business in the US are "purposefully" evading US jurisdiction. Yes, really:

In May, Megaupload's lawyers asked that the charges be thrown out because the company had no US address and could not be served with court papers. However, in his ruling, Judge O'Grady said: 'It is doubtful that Congress would stamp with approval a procedural rule permitting a foreign corporate defendant to intentionally violate the laws of this country, yet evade the jurisdiction of the United States' courts by purposefully failing to establish an address here."

Yesterday, Dotcom, who is facing extradition from New Zealand to the US over the case, questioned the judge's ruling that the company was intentionally avoiding the jurisdiction of the US and should be liable for trial in a country where it was not based.

'US judgement scary for non-US companies: By not establishing a US office you "purposefully" chose to evade US jurisdiction?' he said on Twitter.

Its a pretty weird ruling, but one entirely in keeping with the US's imperial sense of itself. Hopefully it will be overturned on appeal. If not, well, I look forward to our Department of Labour prosecuting US companies for their violations of NZ labour standards and union rights.