The Future of Cybertravel: Legal Implications of the Evasion of Geolocation
91 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2011 Last revised: 17 Mar 2020
Date Written: April 12, 2012
Although the Internet is valued by many of its supporters particularly because it both defies and defeats physical borders, these important attributes are now being exposed to attempts by both governments and private entities to impose territorial limits through blocking or permitting access to content by Internet users based on their geographical location — a territorial partitioning of the Internet. One of these attempts, for example, is the recent Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) proposal in the United States. This article, as opposed to earlier literature on the topic discussing the possible virtues and methods of raising borders in cyberspace, focuses on an Internet activity that is designed to bypass the territorial partitioning of cyberspace and render any partitioning attempts ineffective. The activity — cybertravel — permits users to access content on the Internet that is normally not available when they connect to the Internet from their geographical location. By utilizing an Internet protocol address that does not correspond to their physical location, but to a location from which access to the content is permitted, users can view or use content that is otherwise unavailable to them. Although cybertravel is not novel (some cybertravel tools have been available for a number of years), recently the tools allowing it have proliferated and become sufficiently user-friendly to allow even average Internet users to utilize them. Indeed, there is an increasing interest in cybertravel among the general Internet public as more and more website operators employ geolocation tools to limit access to content on their websites from certain countries or regions.
This article analyzes the current legal status of cybertravel and explores how the law may treat cybertravel in the future. The analysis of the current legal framework covers copyright as well as other legal doctrines and the laws of multiple countries, with a special emphasis on U.S. law. The future of the legal status of cybertravel will be strongly affected by the desire of countries and many Internet actors to erect borders on the Internet to facilitate compliance with territorially defined regulation and enjoy the advantages of a territorially partitioned cyberspace. This article makes an attempt to identify arguments for making or keeping certain types of cybertravel legal, and suggests legal, technical, and business solutions for any cybertravel that may be permitted.
Keywords: internet, geolocation, geoblocking, evasion, Aereo, circumvention, anti-hacking laws, DMCA, digital rights management, technological protection measures, copyright, territoriality, network neutrality, history of the internet, anonymization, right to travel, free speech
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