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New Tools, New Rules: International Law and Information Operations


Duncan B. Hollis


Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


THE MESSAGE OF WAR: INFORMATION, INFLUENCE AND PERCEPTION IN ARMED CONFLICT, G. David and T. McKeldin, eds., 2008
Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-15

Abstract:     
For more than a decade, military thinkers have debated the impact of "information operations" (IO) on armed conflict. Responding to the possibilities (and vulnerabilities) inherent in the interconnectivity of the Internet and other information networks, IO constitutes a new form of warfare. IO uses methods such as computer network attacks or psychological operations to influence, disrupt, corrupt, usurp and defend information systems and the infrastructure they support. As militaries work through what IO can do, however, they must also wrestle with when and how they can employ it - i.e., the question of law's application to IO. Since computer networks and modern information systems constitute new tools (and new targets) for military activities, international law currently regulates them only by analogy, and even then, in a patchwork fashion. Most states and scholars appear content with this situation, denying any need to develop IO-specific rules. This short essay challenges that conventional wisdom. Even as it applies to IO, the existing legal framework suffers from several, near-fatal conditions: uncertainty (i.e., militaries lack a clear picture of how to translate existing rules into the IO environment); complexity (i.e., overlapping legal regimes threaten to overwhelm military commanders seeking to apply IO); and insufficiency (i.e., existing rules fail to address basic challenges of modern conflicts with non-state actors). This situation creates disincentives for militaries to use IO, notwithstanding IO's potential to achieve military and political objectives with less harm than conventional bombs or missiles. To redress these deficiencies, I propose states adopt an international law for information operations, or "ILIO." By adopting an ILIO, states could alleviate the uncertainty and complexity of the status quo, reduce transaction costs for states fighting global terror, and lessen the collateral costs of armed conflict itself.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 19

Keywords: international law, international humanitarian law, law of war, information operations, information warfare, cyberwar, cyberterror, cybercrime, computer network attacks, psychological operations, jus ad bellum, jus in bello, civilian distinction, perfidy, use of force

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K33, K42

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Date posted: August 24, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Hollis, Duncan B., New Tools, New Rules: International Law and Information Operations. THE MESSAGE OF WAR: INFORMATION, INFLUENCE AND PERCEPTION IN ARMED CONFLICT, G. David and T. McKeldin, eds., 2008; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2007-15. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1009224

Contact Information

Duncan B. Hollis (Contact Author)
Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )
1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
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