Legitimizing Lies

80 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2021 Last revised: 23 Jun 2022

See all articles by Courtney M. Cox

Courtney M. Cox

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: June 23, 2022


Lies are everywhere today. This scourge of misinformation raises difficult questions about how the law can and should respond to falsehoods. Legal discourse has traditionally focused on the law’s choice between penalizing and tolerating lying. But this traditional framing vastly oversimplifies the law’s actual and potential responses. Using trade secrets as a case study, this Article shows that the law sometimes accepts lies as a legitimate option for fulfilling legal requirements, and may even require lies in increasingly common circumstances.

Commonly supposed legal and moral commitments against lying do not undermine this reality. To the contrary, the Article reveals that the interplay between lying and the law is much more descriptively and normatively complex than the contemporary discourse generally acknowledges. And it provides support for the law remaining neutral with respect to the normative valence of lying at a time when the main argument favoring neutrality and against an anti-lying perspective—that the remedy for false speech is more speech—has been called into question.

Moreover, in legitimizing certain lies, the law takes lying seriously as a dual-use technology, one that can be put to good ends as well as bad. This raises important practical questions about how to lie, legally and morally, with implications in areas ranging from privacy to procedure to professional responsibility. Making this shift, from questions of justification—of when and whether lying is permitted—to questions of practicality, is increasingly urgent in the shadow of mass surveillance. This Article does not answer all questions raised by law’s legitimation of lying, but by reframing the debate, it takes a critical step for clarifying the value of truth and the law’s role in promoting it.

Keywords: Lies, misappropriation, misinformation, misrepresentation, trade secrets, deception, fraud, deceit, lying, truth, obfuscation, honesty, Intellectual property, cybersecurity, security, autonomy, precautions, honeypot, deception technology, economic espionage, online, digital, business ethics, commerc

Suggested Citation

Cox, Courtney M., Legitimizing Lies (June 23, 2022). 90 George Washington Law Review 297 (2022), Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3800537, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3800537

Courtney M. Cox (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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