Society | DOI: 10.1145/2063176.2063184
Law and Disorder
International law has always been a murky and Byzantine area.
However, the Internet and digital technology have raised the stakes,
the risks, and the challenges.
GeTTInG PeoPLe and coun- tries to agree on things has never been the simplest of matters. However, in the age of the Internet and
digital technology, there is no question that the stakes are greater than
ever. “The ability to build a legal framework across nations is an increasingly
difficult task,” states Michael Geist,
research chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.
law extended to the virtual world—is
at the center of an increasingly contentious battle over rights, responsibilities, and resources. Unfortunately,
there is no international court and no
global legislature. Antagonists may
be individuals, cybergangs, or nation-states. And new forms of crime—
resulting from the rise in Internet commerce, as well as digital goods—has
created nettlesome challenges that
touch diverse areas: theft, defamation,
copyright infringement, intellectual
property theft, child pornography, espionage and terrorism, to name a few.
“The legal system is struggling to
keep up with today’s technology,”
states Jonathan Bick, an adjunct professor of Internet law at Rutgers University Law School. Unfortunately, these
days, there are more questions than
answers. How is technology changing
the way countries approach matters as
diverse as international crime and content ownership? How is it altering business? And what are governments doing
to bring order to cyberspace?
aP Photo/yonhaP, hwang kwang-Mo
Since the emergence of the public Internet in the mid-1990s, people and
communications have become intertwined in ways that would have once
been unimaginable. Nearly 2. 1 billion
people—about 30% of the world’s population—now use the Internet. Globally
an official gives a press briefing about cyberattacks at the national Police agency in
seoul, south Korea on July 8, 2009. south Korean intelligence officials believe north Korea
or pro-Pyongyang forces in south Korea are responsible for the disruptive cyberattacks.
connected commerce, supply chains,
and workplaces have become the norm.
In fact, about U.S. $10 trillion in global
online transactions currently take place
and the figure could rise to U.S. $24 trillion by 2020, according to the Council
of Europe (CoE). By contrast, the current gross world product is about $63
trillion, according to the World Bank.
Of course, where there is money
there are thieves and scofflaws. Yet
keeping up with a fast-changing digital
environment has proven overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges is the
simple fact that “what’s illegal in one
country may not be illegal in another,”
says Pauline C. Reich, director of the
Asia-Pacific Cyberlaw, Cybercrime and
Internet Security Institute and co-author of Law, Policy and Technology: Cy-berterrorism, Information Warfare and
But the issues and challenges don’t
stop there. “Individual countries can
pass whatever laws they like. If you
can’t arrest people and enforce the law
it’s not very useful,” Bick notes. The
root problem is that there is no such
thing as international law. “It’s nothing
more than a series of bilateral treaties,
conventions, and governments claim-
ing jurisdiction over certain laws,” says
Bick. “It’s up to individual countries
to decide whether they want to comply
with another country’s laws.”
Many crimes, such as identify theft
and child pornography, already have
clearly established laws and police pro-
tocols that span international borders.
The prickliest issues revolve around ar-
eas such as print, broadcast, and tele-
communications, where industrial-age
business models and digital-age shar-
ing and stealing redefine usage bound-
aries. The challenge, says Jan Kleissen,
director of standards for CoE, is bal-
ancing risk with rights. “The Internet
is critical for the exercise of people’s
rights and freedoms, as well as for their
everyday activities,” he explains.