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Information technology law (also called cyberlaw) concerns the law of information technology, including computing and the internet. It is related to legal informatics, and governs the digital dissemination of both (digitized) information and software, information security and electronic commerce aspects and it has been described as "paper laws" for a "paperless environment". It raises specific issues of intellectual property in computing and online, contract law, privacy, freedom of expression, and jurisdiction.
The regulation of information technology, through computing and the internet evolved out of the development of the first publicly funded networks, such as ARPANET and NSFNET in the United States or JANET in the United Kingdom.
See also: Software law
IT law does not constitute a separate area of law rather it encompasses aspects of contract, intellectual property, privacy and data protection laws. Intellectual property is an important component of IT law, including copyright, rules on fair use, and special rules on copy protection for digital media, and circumvention of such schemes. The area of software patents is controversial, and still evolving in Europe and elsewhere.
The related topics of software licenses, end user license agreements, free software licenses and open-source licenses can involve discussion of product liability, professional liability of individual developers, warranties, contract law, trade secrets and intellectual property.
In various countries, areas of the computing and communication industries are regulated – often strictly – by governmental bodies.
There are rules on the uses to which computers and computer networks may be put, in particular there are rules on unauthorized access, data privacy and spamming. There are also limits on the use of encryption and of equipment which may be used to defeat copy protection schemes. The export of hardware and software between certain states within the United States is also controlled.
There are laws governing trade on the Internet, taxation, consumer protection, and advertising.
There are laws on censorship versus freedom of expression, rules on public access to government information, and individual access to information held on them by private bodies. There are laws on what data must be retained for law enforcement, and what may not be gathered or retained, for privacy reasons.
In certain circumstances and jurisdictions, computer communications may be used in evidence, and to establish contracts. New methods of tapping and surveillance made possible by computers have wildly differing rules on how they may be used by law enforcement bodies and as evidence in court.
Computerized voting technology, from polling machines to internet and mobile-phone voting, raise a host of legal issues.
Some states limit access to the Internet, by law as well as by technical means.
Issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty have quickly come to the fore in the era of the Internet.
Jurisdiction is an aspect of state sovereignty and it refers to judicial, legislative and administrative competence. Although jurisdiction is an aspect of sovereignty, it is not coextensive with it. The laws of a nation may have extraterritorial impact extending the jurisdiction beyond the sovereign and territorial limits of that nation. This is particularly problematic as the medium of the Internet does not explicitly recognize sovereignty and territorial limitations. There is no uniform, international jurisdictional law of universal application, and such questions are generally a matter of conflict of laws, particularly private international law. An example would be where the contents of a web site are legal in one country and illegal in another. In the absence of a uniform jurisdictional code, legal practitioners are generally left with a conflict of law issue.
Another major problem of cyberlaw lies in whether to treat the Internet as if it were physical space (and thus subject to a given jurisdiction's laws) or to act as if the Internet is a world unto itself (and therefore free of such restraints). Those who favor the latter view often feel that government should leave the Internet community to self-regulate. John Perry Barlow, for example, has addressed the governments of the world and stated, "Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different". A more balanced alternative is the Declaration of Cybersecession: "Human beings possess a mind, which they are absolutely free to inhabit with no legal constraints. Human civilization is developing its own (collective) mind. All we want is to be free to inhabit it with no legal constraints. Since you make sure we cannot harm you, you have no ethical right to intrude our lives. So stop intruding!" Other scholars argue for more of a compromise between the two notions, such as Lawrence Lessig's argument that "The problem for law is to work out how the norms of the two communities are to apply given that the subject to whom they apply may be in both places at once" (Lessig, Code 190).
With the internationalism of the Internet, jurisdiction is a much more tricky area than before, and courts in different countries have taken various views on whether they have jurisdiction over items published on the Internet, or business agreements entered into over the Internet. This can cover areas from contract law, trading standards and tax, through rules on unauthorized access, data privacy and spamming to more political areas such as freedom of speech, censorship, libel or sedition.
Certainly, the frontier idea that the law does not apply in "Cyberspace" is not true. In fact, conflicting laws from different jurisdictions may apply, simultaneously, to the same event. The Internet does not tend to make geographical and jurisdictional boundaries clear, but Internet users remain in physical jurisdictions and are subject to laws independent of their presence on the Internet. As such, a single transaction may involve the laws of at least three jurisdictions:
So a user in one of the United States conducting a transaction with another user in Britain through a server in Canada could theoretically be subject to the laws of all three countries as they relate to the transaction at hand.
In practical terms, a user of the Internet is subject to the laws of the state or nation within which he or she goes online. Thus, in the U.S., Jake Baker faced criminal charges for his e-conduct, and numerous users of peer-to-peer file-sharing software were subject to civil lawsuits for copyright infringement. This system runs into conflicts, however, when these suits are international in nature. Simply put, legal conduct in one nation may be decidedly illegal in another. In fact, even different standards concerning the burden of proof in a civil case can cause jurisdictional problems. For example, an American celebrity, claiming to be insulted by an online American magazine, faces a difficult task of winning a lawsuit against that magazine for libel. But if the celebrity has ties, economic or otherwise, to England, he or she can sue for libel in the English court system, where the burden of proof for establishing defamation may make the case more favorable to the plaintiff.
Internet governance is a live issue in international fora such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the role of the current US-based co-ordinating body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was discussed in the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003
The law that regulates the Internet must be considered in the context of the geographic scope of the Internet and political borders that are crossed in the process of sending data around the globe. The unique global structure of the Internet raises not only jurisdictional issues, that is, the authority to make and enforce laws affecting the Internet, but also questions concerning the nature of the laws themselves.
In their essay "Law and Borders – The Rise of Law in Cyberspace", David R. Johnson and David G. Post argue that it became necessary for the Internet to govern itself and instead of obeying the laws of a particular country, "Internet citizens" will obey the laws of electronic entities like service providers. Instead of identifying as a physical person, Internet citizens will be known by their usernames or email addresses (or, more recently, by their Facebook accounts). Over time, suggestions that the Internet can be self-regulated as being its own trans-national "nation" are being supplanted by a multitude of external and internal regulators and forces, both governmental and private, at many different levels. The nature of Internet law remains a legal paradigm shift, very much in the process of development.
Leaving aside the most obvious examples of governmental content monitoring and internet censorship in nations like China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, there are four primary forces or modes of regulation of the Internet derived from a socioeconomic theory referred to as Pathetic dot theory by Lawrence Lessig in his book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace:
These forces or regulators of the Internet do not act independently of each other. For example, governmental laws may be influenced by greater societal norms, and markets affected by the nature and quality of the code that operates a particular system.
Another major area of interest is net neutrality, which affects the regulation of the infrastructure of the Internet. Though not obvious to most Internet users, every packet of data sent and received by every user on the Internet passes through routers and transmission infrastructure owned by a collection of private and public entities, including telecommunications companies, universities, and governments. This is turning into one of the most critical aspects of cyber Law and has immediate jurisdictional implications, as laws in force in one jurisdiction have the potential to have dramatic effects in other jurisdictions when host servers or telecommunications companies are affected. Very recently, Netherlands became the first country in Europe and the second in the world, after Chile, to pass law relating to it. In U.S, on 12 March 2015, the FCC released the specific details of its new net neutrality rule. And on 13 April 2015, the FCC published the final rule on its new regulations.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for the protection of free expression in all media. Which includes right such as freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
In comparison to traditional print-based media, the accessibility and relative anonymity of cyber space has torn down traditional barriers between an individual and his or her ability to publish. Any person with an internet connection has the potential to reach an audience of millions. These complexities have taken many forms, three notable examples being the Jake Baker incident, in which the limits of obscene Internet postings were at issue, the controversial distribution of the DeCSS code, and Gutnick v Dow Jones, in which libel laws were considered in the context of online publishing. The last example was particularly significant because it epitomized the complexities inherent to applying one country's laws (nation-specific by definition) to the internet (international by nature). In 2003, Jonathan Zittrain considered this issue in his paper, "Be Careful What You Ask For: Reconciling a Global Internet and Local Law".
In the UK the case of Keith-Smith v Williams confirmed that existing libel laws applied to internet discussions.
In terms of the tort liability of ISPs and hosts of internet forums, Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act may provide immunity in the United States.
Main article: Internet censorship
In many countries, speech through cyberspace has proven to be another means of communication which has been regulated by the government. The "Open Net Initiative", whose mission statement is "to investigate and challenge state filtration and surveillance practices" to "...generate a credible picture of these practices," has released numerous reports documenting the filtration of internet-speech in various countries. While China has thus far proven to be the most rigorous in its attempts to filter unwanted parts of the internet from its citizens, many other countries – including Singapore, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia – have engaged in similar practices of Internet censorship. In one of the most vivid examples of information control, the Chinese government for a short time transparently forwarded requests to the Google search engine to its own, state-controlled search engines.
These examples of filtration bring to light many underlying questions concerning the freedom of speech. For example, does the government have a legitimate role in limiting access to information? And if so, what forms of regulation are acceptable? For example, some argue that the blocking of "blogspot" and other websites in India failed to reconcile the conflicting interests of speech and expression on the one hand and legitimate government concerns on the other hand.
At the close of the 19th century, concerns about privacy captivated the general public, and led to the 1890 publication of Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis: "The Right to Privacy". The vitality of this article can be seen today, when examining the USSC decision of Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001) where it is cited by the majority, those in concurrence, and even those in dissent.
The motivation of both authors to write such an article is heavily debated amongst scholars, however, two developments during this time give some insight to the reasons behind it. First, the sensationalistic press and the concurrent rise and use of "yellow journalism" to promote the sale of newspapers in the time following the Civil War brought privacy to the forefront of the public eye. The other reason that brought privacy to the forefront of public concern was the technological development of "instant photography". This article set the stage for all privacy legislation to follow during the 20 and 21st centuries.
In 1967, the United States Supreme Court decision in Katz v United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) established what is known as the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Test to determine the applicability of the Fourth Amendment in a given situation. The test was not noted by the majority, but instead it was articulated by the concurring opinion of Justice Harlan. Under this test, 1) a person must exhibit an "actual (subjective) expectation of privacy" and 2) "the expectation [must] be one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable'".
Further information: Privacy Act of 1974
Inspired by the Watergate scandal, the United States Congress enacted the Privacy Act of 1974 just four months after the resignation of then President Richard Nixon. In passing this Act, Congress found that "the privacy of an individual is directly affected by the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personal information by Federal agencies" and that "the increasing use of computers and sophisticated information technology, while essential to the efficient operations of the Government, has greatly magnified the harm to individual privacy that can occur from any collection, maintenance, use, or dissemination of personal information".
Further information: Foreign Intelligence Act
Codified at 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801–1811, this act establishes standards and procedures for use of electronic surveillance to collect "foreign intelligence" within the United States. §1804(a)(7)(B). FISA overrides the Electronic Communications Privacy Act during investigations when foreign intelligence is "a significant purpose" of said investigation. 50 U.S.C. § 1804(a)(7)(B) and §1823(a)(7)(B). Another interesting result of FISA, is the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). All FISA orders are reviewed by this special court of federal district judges. The FISC meets in secret, with all proceedings usually also held from both the public eye and those targets of the desired surveillance.
For more information see: Foreign Intelligence Act
Main article: Electronic Communication Privacy Act
The ECPA represents an effort by the United States Congress to modernize federal wiretap law. The ECPA amended Title III (see: Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968) and included two new acts in response to developing computer technology and communication networks. Thus the ECPA in the domestic venue into three parts: 1) Wiretap Act, 2) Stored Communications Act, and 3) The Pen Register Act.
The DPPA was passed in response to states selling motor vehicle records to private industry. These records contained personal information such as name, address, phone number, SSN, medical information, height, weight, gender, eye color, photograph and date of birth. In 1994, Congress passed the Driver's Privacy Protection (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721–2725, to cease this activity.
For more information see: Driver's Privacy Protection Act
-This act authorizes widespread sharing of personal information by financial institutions such as banks, insurers, and investment companies. The GLBA permits sharing of personal information between companies joined or affiliated as well as those companies unaffiliated. To protect privacy, the act requires a variety of agencies such as the SEC, FTC, etc. to establish "appropriate standards for the financial institutions subject to their jurisdiction" to "insure security and confidentiality of customer records and information" and "protect against unauthorized access" to this information. 15 U.S.C. § 6801
For more information see: Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
For more information see: Homeland Security Act
-This Act mandates that intelligence be "provided in its most shareable form" that the heads of intelligence agencies and federal departments "promote a culture of information sharing." The IRTPA also sought to establish protection of privacy and civil liberties by setting up a five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This Board offers advice to both the President of the United States and the entire executive branch of the Federal Government concerning its actions to ensure that the branch's information sharing policies are adequately protecting privacy and civil liberties.
For more information see: Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act
The Computer Misuse Act 1990 enacted by the United Kingdom on 29 June 1990, and which came into force on 29 August 1990, is an example of one of the earliest such legal enactments. This Act was enacted with an express purpose of making "provision for securing computer material against unauthorized access or modification." Certain major provisions of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 relate to:
The act was also later amended by the Police and Justice Act 2006 to include the following additional provisions(among others)
Main article: Information Technology Act 2000
An example of information technology law is India's Information Technology Act, 2000, which was substantially amended in 2008. The IT Act, 2000 came into force on 17 October 2000. This Act applies to whole of India, and its provisions also apply to any offense or contravention, committed even outside the territorial jurisdiction of Republic of India, by any person irrespective of his nationality. In order to attract provisions of this Act, such an offence or contravention should involve a computer, computer system, or computer network located in India. The IT Act 2000 provides an extraterritorial applicability to its provisions by virtue of section 1(2) read with section 75. This Act has 90 sections.
India's The Information Technology Act 2000 has tried to assimilate legal principles available in several such laws (relating to information technology) enacted earlier in several other countries, as also various guidelines pertaining to information technology law. The Act gives legal validity to electronic contracts, recognition of electronic signatures. This is a modern legislation which makes acts like hacking, data theft, spreading of virus, identity theft, defamation (sending offensive messages) pornography, child pornography, cyber terrorism, a criminal offence. The Act is supplemented by a number of rules which includes rules for, cyber cafes, electronic service delivery, data security, blocking of websites. It also has rules for observance of due diligence by internet intermediaries (ISP's, network service providers, cyber cafes, etc.). Any person affected by data theft, hacking, spreading of viruses can apply for compensation from Adjudicator appointed under Section 46 as well as file a criminal complaint. Appeal from adjudicator lies to TDSAT
Digital evidence collection and cyber forensics remain at a very nascent stage in India with few experts and less than adequate infrastructure. In recent cases, Indian Judiciary has recognized that tampering with digital evidence is very easy.
Many Asian and Middle Eastern nations use any number of combinations of code-based regulation (one of Lessig's four methods of net regulation) to block material that their governments have deemed inappropriate for their citizens to view. PRC, Saudi Arabia and Iran are three examples of nations that have achieved high degrees of success in regulating their citizens' access to the Internet.
Main article: Electronic signature
The Information Technology Laws of various countries, and / or their criminal laws generally stipulate enforcement agencies, entrusted with the task of enforcing the legal provisions and requirements.
Many United States federal agencies oversee the use of information technology. Their regulations are promulgated in the Code of Federal Regulations of the United States.
Over 25 U.S. federal agencies have regulations concerning the use of digital and electronic signatures.
A live example of such an enforcement agency is Cyber Crime Police Station, Bangalore, India's first exclusive Cyber Crime enforcement agency.
Centers and groups for the study of cyberlaw and related areas
Topics related to cyberlaw
Conferences related to cyberlaw