Policing through Digital Dragnets: Internet Intermediaries’ Regulation of Illegal Pharmacies

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:09
Oral Presentation
Natasha TUSIKOV, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Internet intermediaries, particularly large, U.S.-based companies like Google, PayPal and Facebook have become the new global regulators. These companies are increasingly responsible for policing online wrongdoings on behalf of nation-states and, in a recent development, other powerful corporate actors. These campaigns are not based on legislation or court orders, but secretive, non-legally binding “voluntary” enforcement agreements. Consequently, there is little oversight or adherence to due-process measures. Internet firms’ capacity for and interests in regulating information and behaviour, whether on behalf of states or other companies, are critical areas of inquiry. In their current incarnation, these practices have the potential to create surveillance dragnets that track millions of law-abiding Internet users. Further, as these firms work as regulators – for states and powerful companies – they are shaping ideas of online deviance, as well as normalizing corporate and state surveillance in ways that are undermining fundamental civil rights.

This paper argues that governments, especially that of the United States, play a key role in directing specific regulatory outcomes, often strategically employing the narrative of ‘voluntary intermediary-led’ regulation. The paper contends that government-directed, intermediary-facilitated enforcement enables intermediaries to shape standards that privilege western legal, economic, and political preferences. As a result, these mostly U.S.-based intermediaries are concentrating power in ways that serve their commercial interests and the U.S. government’s economic and national security interests. To make this argument, the paper explores the creation of a private regulatory program, backed by the U.S. government, called the Centre for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP). CSIP is an industry-run association that brings together the pharmaceutical industry with Internet intermediaries to target and dismantle illegal online pharmacies. Through CSIP, the U.S. government can extend its reach to govern actors outside its legal jurisdiction and compel intermediaries to act as regulators to govern wrongdoing by third parties.