The Application of Public International Law to Cyber War: an Adequate Legal Framework?

2 August 2012

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This seminar will explore the question of whether cyber attacks are prohibited under international law, given both the inherent hostility and their ability to generate grave destruction.

Since the dawn of the Information Age states have become highly dependent upon computer technology in order to effectively regulate their societies. This dependency, however, has been recognised by both hostile states and belligerent non-state actors, who have increasingly sought to target computer servers and the information that they hold.

Whilst a cyber attack that causes a plane to crash or opens the gates of a dam would certainly produce physical damage and thus constitute an unlawful use of force, the issue is that many cyber attacks will not produce such damage. Cyber attacks can interrupt government communications, cripple a state's financial sector or disable its military defence systems without manifesting physical damage.

The wealth of current academic literature invariably concludes that such cyber attacks do not constitute an unlawful use of force and thus fall outside the international regulatory framework. This is considered wholly unsatisfactory because of the devastating impact that cyber attacks can yield, regardless that this damage is non-physical in nature. International law is thus lambasted by contemporary cyber war literature for being outdated and deficient.

Dr Russell Buchan from the University of Sheffield disagrees with this common position and believes that cyber attacks are coercive in nature and amount to unlawful intervention under customary international law, constituting an internationally wrongful act.

Dr Buchan will be joined by Dr Emily Crawford from the Sydney Law School who will discuss current issues for the law of armed conflict with regards to hostilities in cyberspace and examine some current State practices relevant to cyber warfare.

About the speakers:

Dr Russell Buchan holds an LLB (Hons) degree in Law, an LLM in Public Law and a PhD in International Law. Russell has published widely in leading academic journals in the field of public international law, with his focus being on collective security, international criminal law, international humanitarian law and cyber war. Russell will publish a monograph in 2012 with Hart Publishing entitled 'International Law and the Construction of the Liberal Peace'. Russell is also currently the editor of the annual Special Issue of the International Community Law Review.

Dr Buchan was recently awarded a research fellowship to visit the University of Sydney to undertake research. While here, he will be concentrating on completing his upcoming monograph which relates to the international protection of fundamental human rights.

Dr Emily Crawford

Dr Emily Crawford is a post-doctoral fellow and associate at the Sydney Centre for International Law (SCIL). Previously at the Law Faculty at the University of New South Wales, Emily completed her Arts and Law degrees before working as a researcher at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, before returning to UNSW to undertake her PhD. Her doctoral thesis on the disparate treatment of participants in armed conflicts was published by Oxford University Press in 2010.

Emily has taught international law and international humanitarian law, and has delivered lectures both locally and overseas on international humanitarian law issues, including the training of military personnel on behalf of the Red Cross in Australia. A member of the International Law Association's Committee on Non-State Actors, as well as the NSW Red Cross IHL Committee, Emily's current research project is looking at major developments in the conduct of armed conflicts in the 21st century, such as cyber warfare and targeted assassinations, and the implications for both domestic and international law.

Time: 6-7.30pm (registration from 5.30pm)

Location: Sydney Law School, Building F10, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: $25 full fee; $20 SLS alumni: $10 USyd students

Contact: PLaCE Coordinator

Phone: (02) 9351 0323

Email: 0f18155a3312513f23032c143a2c3924314d1401465f2b31