A Comprehensive Legal Guide to Cyberspace Law

Electronic commerce raises new questions regarding the application of traditional law to non-cyber transactions. As entrepreneurs move towards computer-networked business models, many lawmakers struggle to fulfill the same obligations outlined for over-the-counter purchases. As it stands, e-commerce transactions fall under contractual law. Each e-commerce transaction has three elements that qualify it under contractual law: offer, acceptance, and consideration. The problem arises when discrepancies become an issue. When a consumer purchases an item at a brick-and-mortar store, he or she can ask questions immediately. In addition, the retailer can determine the validity of a monetary exchange or signature in person. Unfortunately, these opportunities do not present themselves over the Internet. With the advent of technological verification systems, e-commerce transactions have evolved to become more sophisticated. When those systems fail, however, both parties must rely on the legal system to find a resolution.

Cyber Crimes

Government and state officials have worked hard to protect Internet users from criminal activity. The Department of Justice defines computer crime in one of three ways. The first method involves the perpetrator attacking the computers of others in order to infect or gain access. Crimes that primarily target computer networks and devices include computer viruses, spyware, malware, and denial-of-service attacks. Other perpetrators use their computers as a tool to commit traditional crime, such as identity theft and illegal gambling. Another method involves using another person’s computer to file illegal or stolen information. Other forms of cybercrime are cyber stalking, harassment, information warfare, and phishing scams.

Freedom of Expression

The Internet presents an opportunity for people to exercise their freedom of expression. Anybody can express their thoughts to a worldwide audience far more easily than they can on a public platform. From political candidates to the high school jock, a large and growing group of people have decided to take advantage of this opportunity. While the majority exercise their freedom of expression within the confines of civil discussion, a few have taken it to criminal extremes. The kind of speech exercised by those perpetrators may be offensive or downright frightening. There are laws and regulations governing the type of speech exercised in the real world, but it has become increasingly harder to prosecute offenders over the Internet. From hate speech to death threats, perpetrators can hide themselves successfully through anonymous services. Fortunately, legislators and law enforcement agencies have teamed up to put a stop to this abuse of freedom.

Intellectual Property

Laws governing cyberspace protect the use of communication technologies by Internet users. These same laws protect intellectual property, such as copyrighted and trademarked material. Cyber law has attempted to apply current traditional laws of infringement to activities on the Internet. Internet users from all over the world can connect, share, and receive information. Unfortunately, the Internet has no bounds and no international set of laws to govern it. This causes problems when a perpetrator infringes on the intellectual rights of someone living in a different country. For those who live in the same country forbidding intellectual property infringement, the same laws apply that may lead to prosecution under the right jurisdiction.

Privacy

Privacy advocates have debated the distinction between privacy and anonymity. Privacy applies only when publicly shared information can be seen by other Internet users. Anonymity applies when nobody knows anything about a user. In other words, privacy places the ability for a user to disseminate certain information about themselves to the general public. Total exposure, however, can leave users vulnerable to criminals. All governments have restricted privacy in favor of security. The right to privacy does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. In fact, it can imply a reasonable amount of transparent information to the general public without sacrificing one’s personal security. Technology does not have to threaten the privacy rights of its Internet users.

General Cyberspace Law

Cyberspace law protects Internet users from criminal activity. In general, it enforces a rule of law that penalizes perpetrators who violate it. Recent efforts have made it safer to surf the Internet while enjoying its many benefits; however, this does not discount each user’s duty to remain vigilant of suspicious activity. Educating oneself on the laws and ways to avoid becoming victimized may be the most efficient way of clamping down on cybercrime.

Diana Weiss Aizman


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