Cyber law otherwise known as “internet law” is the area of law that regulates how people use the internet. There are cyber laws that are criminal laws and there are cyber laws that are civil laws. Any law or regulation that involves how people use computers, smartphones, the internet and other related technology is cyber law.
Cyber law is also called digital law. As technology changes, the laws that govern electronic communication change, too. Cyber law encompasses all of the ways that people use modern technology to interact and communicate.
Cyber Law Encompasses Many Different Types of Law
Cyber laws serve a variety of purposes. Some laws protect people from becoming the victims of crime through unscrupulous activities on the internet. Other laws create rules for how individuals and companies may use computers and the internet. These laws cover a wide range of topics and activities, but they all fall under the wide category of cyber law. The major areas of cyber law include:
Consumers rely on cyber laws to protect them from online fraud. Laws exist to prevent identity theft, credit card theft and other financial crimes that happen online. A person who commits identity theft may face federal or state criminal charges. They might also face a civil action brought by a victim. Cyber lawyers work to both prosecute and defend against allegations of fraud using the internet.
The internet has made copyright violations easier. The early days of online communication made copyright violations as easy as clicking a button on a file-sharing website. Both individuals and companies need attorneys to bring actions to enforce copyright protections. Copyright infringement is an area of cyber law that defends the rights of individuals and companies to profit from their creative works.
Many people use the internet to speak their mind. When people use the internet to say things that are untrue, it can cross the line into defamation. Defamation laws are civil laws that protect individuals from untrue public statements that can hurt a business or someone’s personal reputation. Defamation law is cyber law when people use the internet to make statements that violate civil laws.
Harassment and Stalking
Sometimes online statements can violate criminal laws that prohibit harassment and stalking. When a person makes repeated or threatening statements about someone else online, they may violate both civil and criminal laws. Cyber lawyers both prosecute and defend people when stalking occurs using the internet and other forms of electronic communication.
Freedom of Speech
An important area of cyber law is freedom of speech. Even though cyber laws prohibit certain behaviors online, freedom of speech laws also allow people to speak their minds. Cyber lawyers must advise their clients on the limits of free speech including laws that prohibit obscenity. In addition, cyber lawyers may defend their clients when there’s a debate about whether their actions constitute permissible free speech.
Companies that do business online often rely on cyber law to protect their trade secrets. For example, Google and other online search engines spend a great deal of time developing the algorithms that produce search results. They also spend a great deal of time developing other features like maps, intelligent assistance and flight search services to name a few. Cyber lawyers help their clients take legal action as necessary in order to protect their trade secrets.
Contracts and Employment Law
Every time you click a button that says you agree to the terms and conditions of using a website, you’ve used cyber law. Contracts protect individuals and corporations as they use technology and do business online. For example, non-compete clauses in employment contracts used to impact only a small, local geographic area. As more business move online, the way lawyers draft these agreements and the way that courts enforce them may change. Lawyers must work to represent the best interests of their clients in areas of law that may still be unsettled.
Another area of cyber law may be domain disputes. When parties disagree about who owns or who should own a website, cyber lawyers may step in. Civil litigation may involve seeking monetary damages or an injunction to prevent online behavior by another party.
Future Topics and Issues
Cyber law topics and questions continue to grow and change. Lawmakers and business leaders continue to discuss and debate how individuals and corporations should be allowed to use the internet. For example, net neutrality is a subject of ongoing public debate. Cyber attorneys may advocate for their clients by approaching lawmakers to explain their position and ask for laws that work to their favor. Other cyber lawyers may represent public interest groups. Cyber lawyers are part of the ongoing discussion about what the laws should be in this area of law.
Jurisdictional Challenges in Cyber Law
Cyber law often presents jurisdictional challenges. Jurisdiction is the question of what court has authority to hear the case. Where a person makes a statement in one jurisdiction and a person reads or hears it in another, it creates a question of where to bring litigation. When crimes occur, it may be hard to even figure out where a defendant committed a crime. There may even be difficulties working between states or countries to bring litigation. Cyber lawyers must navigate all of these challenges to effectively pursue their case on behalf of the public or the client.
Major U.S. Legislation
Major pieces of U.S. legislation in cyber law include:
- National Cyber security Protection Act
- Cyber security Enhancement Act of 2014
- Federal Information System Modernization Act of 2014
- Cyber seeking Workforce Assessment Act
- Border Patrol Agency Pay Reform Act
All states have statutes that prohibit fraud, harassment, stalking and other computer crimes. In addition, state common laws provide remedies for breach of contract, employment laws and defamation.
Who Practices Cyber Law?
Cyber lawyers practice in all types of practices and specializations. They work at small, medium and large firms. They work in private practice, and they work for the federal government.
Government attorneys may work as criminal lawyers, or they may work for an agency that develops and enforces civil laws. Federal prosecutors may bring charges of federal cyber law violations. State attorneys general and local prosecutors also bring charges of violations of cyber law. In addition to criminal attorneys, government attorneys may work for agencies that enforce cyber laws and help the public use the internet in safe ways. Attorneys in the U.S. legislature and their staff may also play a significant role in debating and creating federal cyber laws.
Private attorneys also work for clients in all fields of cyber law. They defend clients facing state and federal criminal charges. If a client faces a dispute regarding a cyber contract or domain use, they may rely on their cyber attorney to negotiate the dispute or navigate related litigation. Because of the jurisdictional challenges involved in cyber law, attorneys who help their clients with cyber litigation may need to work carefully to build their case. They need to know the Rules of Civil Procedure as well as the Rules of Evidence in order to effectively build their case with admissible evidence.
Another important role for cyber attorneys in private practice is helping clients create best practices for conducting business and personal affairs. For example, a cyber attorney that represents a hospital might help them implement practices to comply with privacy laws as well as protect personal information. Even a law firm needs cyber lawyers to help them keep client information confidential in compliance with federal, state and local laws.
Why Become a Cyber Lawyer?
Cyber law is a challenging and developing area of law. Cyber lawyers often work on cases that are extremely important for their clients. Creating privacy and security policies for a major company impacts the entire welfare of a company. One breach can damage a company’s profits and hurt their public image. Domain disputes, employment disagreements and contract disputes are often high stakes. For lawyers who want to work on high-profile cases or cases where there’s a lot of money on the line, cyber law may offer the opportunity.
Because cyber law is still developing, there are ongoing debates about what the laws should be and how they should be enforced. Lawyers who want to impact laws and policies may enjoy having their say. The area of law also welcomes both litigators and transactional lawyers with a wide variety of practice strengths and interests.
Practicing Cyber Law in the Real World
Cyber laws impact all Americans every day. Companies large and small as well as individuals rely on cyber lawyers. The debate about cyber laws continues on a local, state and national scale. Cyber law affords attorneys the opportunity to be a part of the conversation and practice in an exciting and diverse legal specialty.