This arose from an actual conversation in chat. The question was originally posed by Doorknob.

Let's say that someone denied the Holocaust in a message posted in a Stack Exchange chat room. This is a crime in many countries. What jurisdiction(s) could prosecute the offender, given that users from many different countries - some with the law, some without - might be in the room? Would it be the jurisdiction where the servers are? Could the jurisdiction of the IP address of the person who committed the crime prosecute?

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    Like the question about murder on airplanes, this makes an implicit false assumption: that jurisdiction is some broad international principle where exactly one country has jurisdiction over every action. All "we have jurisdiction" means is "Our courts are willing to hear this case;" a country has jurisdiction over an action if and only if its laws give it jurisdiction. There's no reason there must be one country with jurisdiction, nor any reason Fiji couldn't decide it has jurisdiction over Holocaust denial anywhere in the world. – cpast Jul 26 '15 at 21:17
  • @cpast I didn't intend to make that assumption; I knew that there were multiple possibilities, having answered the airplane-murder question. I'll rephrase to make it clearer. – HDE 226868 Jul 26 '15 at 21:19

Generalising outrageously:

A state (interpreted broadly as an entity with a functioning judicial system; could be a nation or a state or something else) claims jurisdiction for:

  1. Acts committed by its citizens,
  2. Acts committed within its territory.
  3. Certain acts committed against its citizens.
  4. Exceptionally egregious crimes with an international character (e.g. piracy, genocide)

For your particular example, a state may try to prosecute and its courts might rule that they have jurisdiction if:

  1. The perpetrator were a citizen, and/or
  2. The act was committed on their territory, and/or
  3. A citizen is considered to have been a victim of the act.

As this is a matter of jurisdiction only we don't have to worry about things like if such a prosecution is realistic or a conviction is likely; a court would need to be satisfied that it had jurisdiction before it made such a decision anyway. This also lets us avoid the question of if such a statement in a chatroom that requires membership of this site is sufficiently public to offend the law; as far as I am aware most of these laws require public expression.

So brushing over all of that then a state in which the statement was published could claim jurisdiction; that would be any state with a sufficiently advanced internet connection that the offending statement could be accessed i.e. pretty much any state that wanted to have a go.

  • States can claim jurisdiction in more cases than just that. Many states claim jurisdiction over certain acts against their citizens, and there are some crimes that states claim jurisdiction over whether or not the crime has anything to do with the state. A state can literally claim jurisdiction for whatever they want. – cpast Jul 27 '15 at 1:56
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    @cpast I did start with Generalising outrageously - feel free to edit the answer to cover those. – Dale M Jul 27 '15 at 2:02
  • In that case, can you make the answer CW? (I don't like editing non-CW to add actual content) – cpast Jul 27 '15 at 2:02
  • @cpast What is CW? – Dale M Jul 27 '15 at 2:03
  • Community Wiki. – cpast Jul 27 '15 at 2:04

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