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Information Warfare and International Law

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The development of information warfare presents international legal issues that will complicate nations efforts both to execute and to respond to certain information warfare attacks, specifically those using computers, telecommunications, or networks to attack adversary information systems. Some legal constraints will certainly apply to information warfare, either because the constraints explicitly regulate particular actions, or because more general principles of international law govern the effects of those actions. Nevertheless, the novelty of certain information warfare techniques may remove them from application of established legal categories. Furthermore, the ability of signals to travel across international networks and affect systems in distant countries conflicts with the longstanding principle of national, territorial sovereignty. First, it has not been established that information attacks, particularly when they are not directly lethal or physically destructive, constitute the use of force or armed attack under such provisions as the United Nations Charter. Second, it is equally unclear whether some of the damage that information warfare attacks could inflict, as by disrupting government or private databases and systems, is the sort of damage that international humanitarian law is intended to restrain. Finally, where attacks can be executed across international networks, the United States among others may need to rely upon foreign assistance in identifying and responding to those who have attacked it. The ambiguous state of international law regarding information warfare may leave space for the United States to pursue information warfare activities. Conversely, it may permit adversaries to attack the United States and its systems. This monograph discusses several, nonexclusive international legal approaches that the United States may pursue to protect its systems or clarify its offensive, defensive, and retaliatory options.

Subject Categories:

  • Information Science
  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law
  • Unconventional Warfare

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