The Application Of International Law In Cyber Space


The term international law was Bentham introduced by Bentham in the year 1789. International law basically derives from customs and treaties. International laws are rules, regulations, norms which are binding on the state that governs the states.

William Gibson in the year 1982 for the first time coined the term ‘cyberspace’. Cyberspace is a virtual, intangible space whereby all the communication takes place and all those communications are mediated by the internet. Some of the examples of cyberspace are website, email account, social networking sites etc. Cyberspace is transnational in nature i.e. it has no boundary. Thus as a result of which crime can be easily committed by persons remaining in one country against the person who is present in another country. It became difficult for the law enforcement authority to punish the person who has committed the crime.

For instance, the Indian Penal Code has both the type of jurisdiction- Territorial Jurisdiction and Extraterritorial Jurisdictions. But the problem is IPC can punish only Indian citizens. So the question arises who shall punish the person and in accordance with what law the person shall be punished if in case that person is not an Indian Citizen. There are many issues related to cyberspace like being intangible in nature it becomes very difficult to collect evidence in cyberspace. Evidence in cyberspace can be easily altered.

Though the crime that takes place in cyberspace is conventional but it uses high technology but in most of the country existing law deals with traditional crime. With the advancement in technology day by day new crime is being introduced but the existing laws have no punishment in relation to those crimes. Thus from all these problems, it can be taken into consideration that whether cyberspace is subjected to any law? If yes then which law? And how the law is applied in cyberspace?


Cyberspace is a ‘battle space’ which is governed by international law and the use of force. State prefers to dismiss international law. Thus from this, it is understandable that Cyberspace is not law-free. International law is being applied in cyberspace. Whenever any new crime arises due to the use of technology international laws are being applied in those cases. Whenever any changes took place in technology and due to that if any new crime arises then international laws are being asked to take action accordingly.

Before 1996 there was no law or standard in relation to cybercrime. But in the case of R vs. Gold & Schiffren the defendant was charged for defrauding under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act, 1981. But the crime committed by the defendant was that he had gained unauthorized access to the computer networks. The House of Lord held that the language of the Act is not applicable to the situation. This judgment brought a possibility to enact a law to deal with the crime that takes place in cyberspace.

In 1996, the Unites Nation General assembly came up with UNCITRAL Model which basically deals with three fundamental principles. They are:-

  1. Article 5 of Model law provides that no discrimination should be made between physical documents and electronic documents. Electronic documents have the same legality as the physical document has in court.
  2. The second principle is that laws remain neutral with respect to old technology and new technology.
  3. The third principle provides that the electronic document that to be reduced before the court shall be the first generated form of the electronic document.


International law provides that if require force may be used in the cyber operation. However, A state while carrying out any activity in cyberspace must take into consideration the sovereignty of other states in the context of arm conflict Force may be used only if any physical damages took place as a consequence of the cyber attack. Before using force few things must be taken into consideration like whether there are any physical injury and damages to the property that took place or not. If such injury takes place then the force is used. To decide whether force should be used or not few factors are taken into consideration like:-

  1. Event that took place
  2. Preparation by the person who is willing to commit the crime.
  3. All the details related to target.

Some instances where force is used in cyberspace are- airplane crash, nuclear plant explosion.


States possess an inherent right to self-defense. Article 51 of the UN Charter provides that states may use the right of self-defense when in case any computer activities took place which results in an armed attack or threat.


The rule of Jus in bello means the standards which a country needs to follow while conducting war. Also, the rule provides that action taken by the country must be and just and fair. In other words, the rule provides some guidelines for conducting a war. If in case any armed conflict takes place in cyberspace then Jus In Bello rule is being applied. The rule is applied so to limit the use of force while exercising the right of self-defense. Also, this rule regulates what actions may result in a lawful response and what act not.


As stated earlier state has an inherent right to use the right of self-defense and thus if there is any physical damage then the state can use arm force. However, States should take a legal review of weapons. A review of weapons takes place so to determine the weapon used by the state is inconsistent with the principles of distinction and proportionality or not. New weapons are being evaluated so to determine whether such a weapon is prohibiting any law or not. Also, the evaluation of weapons ensures that the operation is in accordance with the law of war.


It is found that international law is applied in cyberspace more often than anywhere else. It is the duty of every state while maintaining or in pursuance with national objective, sovereignty should be maintained. Law, however, is never the only answer to a situation. The state should keep in mind that international law and national security interests are not connected with each other. With the development of technology, cyber crime s also increasing thus must know how to apply the law. Day by day disruptive activities in cyberspace are increasing. More often it is found that the state applies its territorial law in extraterritorial jurisdiction in order to protect its national interest.




Anirudh Rastogi, Cyber Law, Lexis Nexis, 2019

This Article is Authored by Madhurika De, 5th Year BBA LLB(H) Student at ICFAI University, Tripura.

Also Read – Uniform International Law In Cyber Space And Data Protection

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