Does international law apply to cyberspace? Before the 21st century, that question fell somewhat in the realm of science fiction. Today, however, nearly every business and government system is online in one way or another, making the question relevant. Given the digitization of the modern world, it's not surprising that the intersection between international law and cyberspace has grown closer and more complex. Governance of the internet rests with the organizations behind its platforms, not with governments or the public.
Today, it is nearly impossible to run a business — especially one that crosses state and country borders — without considering the legal bounds of other areas. Thus, legal professionals must have a background in technology, and technology professionals must have legal knowledge. With nearly all aspects of modern-day living digitized, however, tech-based criminal or harmful behavior threatens almost every area of society: medicine, finance, education, household security — the list goes on.
By earning a master's degree in legal studies, students can equip themselves with the necessary skills to navigate this modern, digital world with legal authority, not to mention prepare themselves for career paths that call for these skills.
The Issues at Stake
In a digitized world where the internet is owned and monitored by private enterprises, how do government and state bodies regulate information across national borders for the safety of their citizens?
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that there is no easy way to determine when and where legal action can apply to cyberspace — especially across borders. International law can apply to cyberspace in five broad categories:
- Silence applies to states and their choice to offer opinions on the intersection of international law and cyberspace.
- Existential disagreements relate to states' competing claims that a rule applies to cyberspace or not (such as questions regarding international humanitarian law, the right to self-defense and the duty of due diligence).
- Interpretive questions refer to bodies' interpretation of what warrants legal action (such as nonintervention and sovereignty human rights).
- Attribution refers to identifying the entity or group responsible for certain cyber behavior – which can be a difficult feat. Identifying the origins of malicious online behavior is complicated (and further complicated by states' proxy measures).
- Accountability, simply put, has to do with addressing a violation and agreeing on the best means of consequence or punishment.
Some organizations have faced scrutiny over their navigation of international law and cyberspace. Facebook, Microsoft, Google and others are no strangers to conversations regarding ethics, legal boundaries and international law in the digital space.
Northern Kentucky University's online Master of Legal Studies program can equip students with the necessary legal, technological and policy knowledge to work in a digitized world. For example, a core course titled "Legal Boundaries in the Digital Age" notes that a single action using technology can affect essential systems, including personal identity, the legitimacy of an election, the safety of a public utility and more.
Professionals must question what governing (private or public) bodies will protect victims of cyberthreats and penalize those who harm others using technology. This course examines "the obstacles to enacting and enforcing laws to govern cyberspace and the real world when developing technologies create challenges to the lawful authority of governments to regulate technology."
Other courses that bolster knowledge in this area include "Digital Commerce and the Law" and "Digital Privacy and Security."
What Regulations Should Companies Follow?
Experts debate whether technology tools will ultimately take over the systems of life as we know them or simply help humans solve issues and live better and more efficiently. But with an increase in technology, data and artificial intelligence (AI) come questions of privacy, ethics and legal boundaries across states and borders. The ubiquity of screen usage worldwide opens a number of legal and ethical quandaries.
Companies are asking the question: "Should we set internal rules that adhere to existing, strict rules, or should we match regulations to broader, local or international limitations?" Consumers want tools that offer similar experiences across borders and markets, and companies must grapple with the issue of what legal bounds to honor. Variations in laws and legal frameworks depending on the state, country and region make this decision complicated.
Yoshitaka Sugihara, co-chair of the Digital Economy Committee and vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said, "The best solution is for companies and governments to reach the optimum balance between 'hard laws' and self-regulation." Of course, this is easier said than done.
An advanced degree in legal studies can prepare you for a career that requires both technology expertise and legal knowledge. It can also lead to opportunities for job options such as data privacy manager, legal operations manager, compliance manager, information security analyst and information security manager. Whatever your career direction, a degree in legal studies can give you the technological, legal and strategic know-how to excel in the modern digital landscape.
Learn more about Northern Kentucky University's Master of Legal Studies online program.
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