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Can Egypt's Telecom Giants Be Sued In the US? 105

Posted by timothy
from the those-phones-really-tied-the-room-together dept.
bedouin writes "In April, the Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of other plaintiffs against the three telecommunications companies (and a number of current and former Egyptian officials) seeking compensation for the damages they suffered due to the shutdown of communications. The case is ongoing. An interesting question is whether any of these companies could also be sued in US courts."
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Can Egypt's Telecom Giants Be Sued In the US?

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  • Let's say for the sake of argument that they could be sued in a US court. If the judgement goes against them how would it be enforced? It seems like the court would either have to go after their US assets or ask the government to use some kind of sanctions against Egypt to get the cash.

    Let's say there are no US assets so the latter option is the only one available. Should the US be using international trade sanctions to enforce its own laws in other countries? Imagine the uproar if China decided to enforce some of its laws in the US with sanctions.

    • by jonbryce (703250) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @05:21AM (#36237044) Homepage

      One of the companies is Vodafone, who own 45% of Verizon, so there are plenty of US assets to get hold of.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        One of the companies is Vodafone, who own 45% of Verizon, so there are plenty of US assets to get hold of.

        Doesn't that just mean the US govt now has a vested interest in protecting them. It's not like they are a non-US telco like Singtel or Hutchinson.

    • They can (Score:5, Informative)

      by cappp (1822388) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @05:25AM (#36237054)
      As provided by TFA, the Alien’s Action for Tort [cornell.edu] is the relevent statute and states

      The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.

      There's some decent caselaw and precedent if anyone's intersted - Wiki has a little summary [wikipedia.org] that shouldn't take too long to browse through. Long story short, it's certainly possible but there are some pretty high barriers to use (see specifically the ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum [ed.ac.uk] [pdf]). It's a lot easier if its person on person, moreso if one of those is physically in the US, but it extends to corporations and non-residents as well.

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        This is slashdot, please form your comments in a rant against America, or against Arabs, or at the very least, against the American legal system. ;)

        That said, it would seem that the Egyptians can and should handle their problems in their own courts. They are, after all, trying to create a new system of government. If they can't obtain justice with their own judicial system, there is no hope for a democratic government there.

        • Re:They can (Score:4, Insightful)

          by cappp (1822388) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @06:45AM (#36237306)
          Obtaining justice in their own system is likely to be really, really hard. I don't know for certain but I would imagine that in Egyptian Law the telecom companies would be able to successfully argue that they were merely following governmental orders, and the government will claim some kind of perogative to act - probably grounded in some kind of martial law rights. The problem is that the law as it stood both reflected and enable a specifically ordered power structure - the law would give deference to the government in many areas.

          So you're stuck with the hope that the law would be adapted, a process that takes a lot of time and negotiation, and protections for civil society added. Problem - a lot of states forbid ex post facto prosecution. Egypt is a signatory to the Arab Charter on Human Rights which specifically states [umn.edu] that

          o crime and no penalty can be established without a prior provision of the law. In all circumstances, the law most favorable to the defendant shall be applied.

          . So the only option is likely to be appeals to international courts. Using the courts as they stand in Egypt is likely to be futile at present, and in the future they'll be unable to claim for injuries suffered prior to the adoption of new laws. It's a difficult situation to be in.

          Moreover, there's a lot of reasons to make an international case here - and most of them are rooted in good ol' money and politics.

          • Obtaining justice in their own system is likely to be really, really hard

            And that differs from the American system how?

            • by AK Marc (707885)
              At least in the US system, the government can give orders (such as safety standards) and if you meet them, you have zero liability shielding from that act. There have been a few cases where meeting the standards made something less safe than not (first generation airbags being one example) and using the defense "but I had to to meet the government requirements" isn't acceptable. Not that the net effect is any better, but a governmental order with regards to doing something doesn't absolve that party of th
          • by Xeranar (2029624)

            Martial Law doesn't exist. This is a weird concept that seems to flow from too many movies is that the government can establish military rule at will. The problem is in the US is that it cannot supersede the constitution which means every time it has been enforced it has been a crime in itself. The military can come in and act as the police force to establish the supremacy of law again but they can't suspend law (atleast in the US). I absolutely think President Lincoln was a great president for the reco

          • by Pharmboy (216950)

            There is a big difference in seeking justice in an American court, and an international court. I would think that attempting to seek justice in any way in an American court would make it look like we are imposing our laws on them. An international court, however, would be a proper venue under the current situation, if their courts could not handle the case for whatever reason.

    • by cbope (130292) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @06:08AM (#36237172)

      Should the US be using international trade sanctions to enforce its own laws in other countries?

      Too late, the US has been doing this for some time. How do you think the rash of DMCA-like laws have been forced on other countries in recent years? Where I live, file sharing of even of copyrighted works among friends was not illegal (no profit motive) until the US forced DMCA-like laws to be adopted by our government. It was surely not the population who voted this into law and made a large percentage of the population criminal overnight. As an American ex-pat living abroad, this brings me no small amount of shame.

      • ... the US has been doing this for some time. How do you think the rash of DMCA-like laws

        The example is quite an understatement of the time frame, too. Two words: "Cuba embargo". Five more: "Letters of Marque and Reprisal."

        Egypt is no stranger to this. One of the first actions projecting US laws abroad, under Jefferson, was the military attack on the Barbary "Pirates" - who in turn had been acting as tax collectors enforcing a claim to sovereignty over the waters around the Straits of Gibraltar and a

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        It is a strange world indeed when China is leading the way on defying US intellectual property tyranny. I just hope they don't cave in.

      • by chrismcb (983081)
        I don't know where you live but I would bet that your country signed the Berne Convention (back in the 70s) thus making it illegal to share copyrighted files even with friends.
    • by thej1nx (763573) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @06:54AM (#36237330)

      Well USA has been enforcing its laws, demands, fancies on other countries for plenty of time. As per new American vision, national sovereignty of other countries means zilch. American citizens can go and illegally spy in other countries, murder innocents and can get accorded diplomatic immunity after the fact and officially get away by throwing some cash around.

      Even diplomatic immunity and Geneva convention is being abandoned. Torture is acceptable. Diplomats and their families can be strip-searched, arrested and humiliated if US thinks that there will be no retaliation. Here is just the latest example :
      http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/diplo_daughter_keyed_up_kgp3ZqKcEx9nVwPoD9g0aM [nypost.com]

      Apparently American murderers and rapists(check out Okinawa American base in Japan) can get away scott-free, while US authorities decide as per need, whether diplomatic immunity laws do or do not apply, irrespective of International laws and norms.

      Mod me flamebait or troll, if you will. But USA has *always* had a superiority complex and believes even its murderers and rapists are sacrosanct. Even in rare cases, when they allowed prosecution, some kind of deal for a compromise has always been worked out. Only place where US chooses to comply to the international laws is where it feels there is a lot at risk or if it can get its ass royally kicked(i.e. in China for example, where USA military might means naught).

      And yep, thanks to the internet and US-propelled globalisation, everyone has US assets or eventually will. Paypal happily freezes accounts of whoever the USA government does not likes. Everyone has a Visa or MasterCard these days. And with US based banks operating in almost all the countries, similar pressure can get eventually employed to force the foreign branches of say Citibank to freeze even accounts that are not in USA. It totally depends on whether or not, your government can stand up to the USA.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You know you post this as if this is unique to the U.S.. The only difference between the U.S. doing this and most other countries is that the U.S. is able to make it stick in more places than most other countries.
        • by thej1nx (763573)

          Well bingo! Apparently being a habitual offender does makes a BIG difference in courts as opposed to there being a rare first offense(I will skip the debate about "But everyone would do it, if they were powerful like us! Really! So that makes it okay to be a bully!"). If some US court clerk declared countries to be person too like corporations, you will find that as per the USA laws, repeat offenders are considered as a more serious threat to the world.

          That, and no other country pretends that it owns the re

          • There are several countries that have "universal jurisdiction" laws on their books. So, yes, there are other countries that pretend that their law applies to all of the world.
            • by thej1nx (763573)

              And yet none of them go around actually kidnapping citizens of foreign countries, instead of either waiting for them to enter their borders or instead of trying to extradite them!

        • by thej1nx (763573)

          And since you missed the point, it is about USA insisting that it can interfere with any country's sovereignty and sue in its courts, even foreigners for crimes that do not involve USA in any way. Which other major country does this? And if human rights are so important to you, why not uphold the basic human right of all : Life. Why did USA not allow Ray Davis to be prosecuted for what was clear murder then?

          This is less about Justice or Human rights and more about power play. It is stupid to expect that any

          • There are several countries which explicitly state that they can prosecute anyone for crimes committed anywhere in the world. It is known as "universal jurisdiction". Your point seemed to be that somehow the U.S. was uniquely evil for using its power to defend its government's interests (and sometimes just that of well connected individuals) in foreign countries and that is just not true. Every nation does that to the extent that it is able.
            I am not convinced that what Ray Davis did in Pakistan was "clear
            • by thej1nx (763573)

              Do you have any proof that Ray Davis was authorized/permitted by the Pakistan Government to "look for Al-Qaeda members"? You are simply proving my point.

              Universal Jurisdiction is indeed claimed by several countries regarding crimes against humanity and has been actually practiced by almost none of the other countries due to the establishment of ICC. Belgium for example, has such a law but limits it to a Belgium citizen or someone present in Belgium being involved. Same goes for most of the other countries.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        Apparently American murderers and rapists(check out Okinawa American base in Japan) can get away scott-free, while US authorities decide as per need, whether diplomatic immunity laws do or do not apply, irrespective of International laws and norms.

        All laws are either backed by force or meaningless. As the US is the closest to a world policeman, laws are what it says they are - and since it's corrupt, the laws are also applied corruptly.

        The international stage is currently as individual countries used to be

  • In the US, you can file a suit against almost anybody. But that's not the same as actually winning it. If you have no legal standing or the suit does not involve a breach of US civil law, then you can lose, even if the defendant does not bother to show up.
  • As in the superinjunction furore regarding wether they can be sued in the USA for "laws" broken in the UK.
  • The idea that someone committing an act in one country, with effects within that country, can then be sued in another... it's patently ridiculous.

    However we are clearly getting into a situation where the world is seriously interconnected (a good thing!) but legal codes and presumed jurisdictions overlap in all sorts of ways.

    We either need an international legal code to sort this stuff out, or for countries to stop claiming jurisdiction outside of their own boundaries (except where it concerns actions perpet

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The idea that someone committing an act in one country, with effects within that country, can then be sued in another... it's patently ridiculous.

      Not really, in a lot of European countries you can get prosecuted for having sex with a minor overseas, altough:
      1) It's an act commited overseas.
      2) The effects of the act stay overseas.
      3) The act itself might not have been illegal overseas*

      (* If you come from a country that 18 as "age of consent" you're still not allowed to have a sex with a 14 year old even if in that country the "age of consent" would be 14)

      So, the rules are not entirely ridiculous.
      As a citizen you're supposed to follow the rules of AND y

      • by Nursie (632944)

        Oh sure, why I added the exception - "(except where it concerns actions perpetrated by their own citizens, with consequences to be faced when they return to their native soil)"

        But I'm not sure that's a useful principle beyond heinous crimes. For instance - what about a tourist visiting amsterdam, who smokes up a little when there, and returns home?

        • by Jaysyn (203771)

          The way I understand it, it's not illegal to get high, it's illegal to grow, own, sell, give to minors or operate heavy machinery. If it was illegal to get high every failed company drug test would be followed by a trip to jail.

          • by Nursie (632944)

            I suppose that's why people caught on drugs don't always get charged with anything - if they don't still have the substance about their person then there's no proof they were ever in possession.

    • by stiggle (649614)

      There is an international criminal court - just the US hasn't signed up to it and during the Bush presidency threatened violence to anyone who pulls a US citizen in front of the court.

      http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ASP/states+parties/ [icc-cpi.int]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Criminal_Court [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_and_the_International_Criminal_Court [wikipedia.org]

  • by muffen (321442) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @05:29AM (#36237062)
    Remember Dmitry Sklyarov [wikimedia.org]?
  • It seems that people can be sued in the US when a win is easiest there, or sued in the UK over libel if there is chance that someone in the UK read it. What's next - someone suing a wife for adultery in an Iranian court because they want a death sentence!
    • What's next - someone suing a wife for adultery in an Iranian court because they want a death sentence!

      As I understand it, conviction for adultery under Islamic law requires several witnesses to the act.

      Now I know there are people in the US who think that, if their wives had sex with someone else in front of an audience they'd deserve the death penalty ...

  • Blah. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @05:42AM (#36237096) Homepage
    This is just "activists" taking the easiest path instead of a path that's actually challenging. It's easy to sue anyone in America, and the insane American legal system is feared worldwide.

    Let's put the shoe on the other foot, shall we? Suppose you received a summons from the Intermediate People's Court of Zhengjiang County, China. A Chinese person is suing you because you supplied parts that were assembled into buses that police used to arrive at the scene of a civil disturbance, where the plaintiff was unlawfully injured (by unlawfully, I mean under Chinese law). Suing the local government is right out, so they sued you instead. What would you say to this? (A) Oh boy, this is serious, I had better go to this country, hire a lawyer, and spend a couple of months in-country fighting these charges to clear my name. (B) What the hell authority does some foreign court have over me? I've never been there and I'm never going there.

    Oh, and if an American company had refused to comply with the cutoff order, it would be cultural imperialism and interfering with the internal affairs of another country. We can't impose our (false) values of "freedom" on other cultures, remember?

    • Re:Blah. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pinkushun (1467193) * on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @07:04AM (#36237362) Journal

      There is a bigger picture involved.

      During the Egyptian revolution the telecom companies, instead of supporting the people, complied with and acted upon the requests of a tyrannical leader to shut down internet access, in an attempt to silence the people. [1]

      They also complied to send out pro-government, anti-democracy [2] mobile text messages [3].

      Don't buy Vodafone's excuse, they abide to a mad man's "emergency laws", while the people and journalists risked life and limb to have their voice heard. Vodafone agreed to his terms, a guy who is now facing the death penalty under charge or premeditated murder against civilians[5], and need to grow a pair.

      And do you know why?
      "Its not clear who paid for the messages which could amount to hundred of thousands of dollars worth of messaging."

      [1] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/01/2011128796164380.html [aljazeera.net]
      [2] http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=133349 [businessday.co.za]
      [3] http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/02/03/unsolicited-pro-mubarak-text-messages-from-egypt/ [liberalconspiracy.org]
      [4] http://www.renesys.com/blog/2011/01/egypt-leaves-the-internet.shtml [renesys.com]
      [5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/24/us-egypt-mubarak-idUSTRE74N3LG20110524 [reuters.com]

      • During the Egyptian revolution the telecom companies, instead of supporting the people, complied with and acted upon the requests of a tyrannical, internationally recognized as leader to shut down internet access, in an attempt to silence the people. [1]

        There, fixed that for you....

        As tyranical, evil, mass murdered as he could ever be, he was the one in charge. If by giving these orders he overstepped his powers and broke Egyptian laws, then Egyptians courts should try him(*). If the phone companies broke

        • My conclusion is not about which laws should be enforced where. It is about how the people should stand together, whether they be civilians, small business owners or large telecom companies.

          The country was upset when the guys in high corporate positions abandoned their civil duty to the people. The lawsuits are a repercussion of the events. I talked about the cause.

          Sorry SMS were never free, I live in a third world country :(

          Good arguments :)

      • by floydman (179924)

        Wish I had modpoints for you

      • by Aceticon (140883)

        First a big fat disclaimer to avoid ad-hominem attacks: I fully support the transition for a Democracy in Egypt and only wish it happened in more places.

        That said, at some points your post reads like propaganda:
        - "instead of supporting the people"
        - "complied with and acted upon the requests of a tyrannical leader"
        - "in an attempt to silence the people"
        (emphasis mine)

        It reminds me of the kind of words that could be heard in a number of "revolutionary" cleanups like those in Mao-Tse Tung's China and Stalin's

    • by Jaysyn (203771)

      That's the thing about multi-national corporations. They "live" in every country they have an office in. If said person in your example had a vacation home in China, you could bet your ass they'd lawyer up or face a loss of wealth.

      So your example really isn't equivocal to the situation in TFA.

  • As a non-US resident it seems from reports here on slashdot and other places, that anyone can be sued for anything in the US, regardless of merit, so I would not be at all surprised to see it happen.
  • US telecoms can't be sued in the US, what makes you think Egyptian ones can?
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      US telecoms can't be sued in the US, what makes you think Egyptian ones can?

      Because they are not US companies and therefore don't have a lobby.

    • Actually, US telecoms get sued in the US and sometimes lose.

      They even get sued by the government. That's how AT&T got broken up in the first place. (What's now called AT&T is one of the kids born from the lawsuit, which ate what was left of the mother and several of its siblings. Though perhaps a more graphic analogy would be the reconstitution of Terminator II from the merger of most of its shattered pieces.)

      But the US telecoms mostly win because the laws are very much in their favor and thus ea

  • You are a spiv (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I would say no, you scum sucking money grabber. Trying to profit from a revolution in the third world by suing whats left in Egypt is pretty low.

    You disgust me, you miserable (barely) human being.

    • by Bengie (1121981)

      I am conflicted. I do find it "low" to be suing companies from a country that just experience a revolution, but then again, these companies listened to their government to shutdown the internet. But again, as much as I loath them shutting down the intarweb, they were just following orders. I still would enjoy Verizon taking a hit, but allowing a suit out of spite isn't the way to go.

      If someone should be sued, it should be the prior government of Egypt.

  • Surely being directed by a Government to shut down communication services frustrates contracts to supply communication services. Torts seem no better.

  • Of course they can, the US do whatever they fucking want. It's as if the world is theirs to rule to them.

  • by bcmm (768152)
    What should they have done? They've done wrong if they participated in interception for the regime, but I don't see what good ignoring an order to shut down would do. Vodafone doesn't have any soldiers; Mubarak could perfectly well have shut it down himself by cutting power or having their equipment blown up.
  • Pretty sure this would depend on of the person suing was an American who was directly affected by Egypt's telecoms. Then it would really only be enforcable if the company had a US presence. Otherwise, I imagine that the case would be dismissed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Two words - Force Majeure - so that covers war, rioting, insurrection.

    Secondly, a telecoms company in any country is obliged to follow the direction of the FCC or similar in their country. If they get a suspension order from the government, they have to suspend operation.

    The Government of Egypt demanded a suspension of service, the telco's had no option but to suspend or be in violation of their license terms

  • by Nihn (1863500)
    us courts apply only to us citizens. there is an absolute reason why people from other countries are sent back home to face court. egypt has their own system, let them deal with it.
    • Wrong in many ways.

      US Courts deal with any crime in the United States. However, merely being outside the US territory doesn't totally removal all US control over US citizens. So US citizens (or corporations) can be sued for violating the (very small set of) laws that apply regards of locality to US citizens, in US courts.

      Also, Egypt does not really have their own system. I mean, a revolution kinda took place. I mean you can have ex post facto laws or a kangaroo court to deal with the supports of the ol

      • by thej1nx (763573)

        International Criminal Court was established for a reason. If USA was that concerned it would do far more good improving THAT, instead of interfering with other countries. I mean, unless you were okay with some Chinese official filing a trivial suit against you in China in your absence, winning the case since you were not willing to go over and defend yourself, and then perhaps even getting you kidnapped either from USA or some china-friendly country you were traveling in.

        Before you go red with rage, this i

        • Before you go red with rage, this is exactly what USA usually does.

          No, it's not. It's an embarassingly bad understanding of a common practice.

          People from outside the US can sue a company/person in US courts if that company/person is a US entity/citizen, even for acts committed overseas... if they are part of the laws that apply even off US soil. So, you can be prosecuted for bribing Kenyan officials to give you access to minerals. You cannot be prosecuted for smoking weed in Amsterdam.

          IANAL, yada yada.

          • by thej1nx (763573)

            Umm no. Google it up. Websites abroad got blocked due to trademark issues just because the owners wouldn't fly all the way to USA to defend themselves in court. If you do not show up to defend yourself, you lose the case by default in absentia. Isn't USA awesome? And do try and explain this :

            http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-04-26/us-canada-news/29474292_1_sikh-riots-sfj-communal-violence-bill [indiatimes.com]

            Congress Party of India(basically the ruling party/government of India at the time) is NOT a US entit

            • by Nihn (1863500)
              isn't it amazing that racism is still accepted in this day and age. the government did this, not the citizens. learn how to separate the 2. you don't have a say in your governments actions anymore than we do. the people you live under have done awful things as well, every nation has a past and current list of inhumanity and a total lack of respect for human rights. so if I were to approach this as you do, YOU are a horrible person who has oppressed millions just to keep your position in the global scene....
            • Websites abroad got blocked due to trademark issues just because the owners wouldn't fly all the way to USA to defend themselves in court.

              Yes, because trademark jurisdiction is handled by treaty.

              Again, the claimed tort was committed in violation of treaties to which the US is a signitory. They aren't claiming US law is soverign over the world. They're claim

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