Challenges Posed by the Development of Information Technology

Technology is an essential part of our day-to-day lives. It has made communication and dissemination of information faster and easier. Further, exchange of ideas as well as sale and purchase of goods and services have been facilitated with the advent of internet. Technology and the internet has become so intrinsic a part of our life that we cannot even think about planning our day without the involvement of such technology or the internet. However, this is just one side of the coin. On the flip side, technological advancement has created issues which impact different aspects of our lives. The following part analyses different challenges posed by information technology and the internet to the global community at large.

  • Criminal law

Technological advancement and the internet has provided a breeding ground for commission of crime as the use of computers and the internet is a cheaper means to perpetrate crime which simultaneously impacts a large section of society. These crimes are termed as cybercrimes. They are specifically different from traditional crimes owing to its global import, the anonymous identity of the perpetrator and the involvement of third parties like the Internet Service Providers and the Intermediaries. However, this difference is discarded by the scholars who believe that traditional system of laws are adequate to deal with the crimes in the digital age.

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It is pertinent to note that although cyberspace just acts as a medium to perpetrate a crime, however, it has a number of implications attached to it, which highlights the need for a separate legal framework to punish cybercrimes. Taking into account this issue, different jurisdictions[1] have enacted separate piece of legislations to specifically deal with cybercrimes.

Generally, cybercrimes can be classified as-

  1. Against persons (for example, harassment, spoofing, stalking)
  2. Against property (for example, IPR, data theft, trespass, squatting)
  • Against infrastructure (for example, attack on critical infrastructure)
  1. Against society (for example, pornography, gambling, cyber trafficking, forgery etc.)

Therefore, considering the fact that certain crimes emerged only because of the use of technology, traditional laws cannot be applied to address the criminal law issues posed by cyberspace.

  • Privacy and data protection

Right to privacy is considered a fundamental human right[2] and state is under an obligation to protect the same from unnecessary intrusion. Although cyberspace is not a real place and does not actually exist, however, vast amount of digital information exist in the servers, which includes personal as well as sensitive personal data of individuals. Further, with time, the collection of such data will only increase, which further increases the risk posed by technology in protection of such data.

The manner in which data of individuals is collected and stored has changed after technology came into being. Previously, such data was stored in paper files locked in the chambers of the institutions which collected it. Therefore, the sheer costs of retrieving such data, the impermanency of the forms in which it was stored and the inconvenience experienced in procuring access (assuming that its existence was known), made the issue of privacy and data protection were negligible. However, information stored in servers, which are susceptible to cyberattacks, has significantly increased the risk of data breach/leak.

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Therefore, cyberspace is, in essence, a public domain and if such space is left unregulated, the violation of individual’s right to privacy is a real possibility.

  • Intellectual property rights

With respect to intellectual property right, advances in digital technology and the commercialization of the Internet has altered the core of copyright. The internet has facilitated the level of online piracy of copyrighted works. Unlicensed, but always perfect, copies and streams of copyrighted works are readily available on the internet. With the growth of streaming services, direct download sites, and peer-to-peer services such as BitTorrent, the old problem of online piracy has extended and spread in an unanticipated manner.

With respect to the realm of trademark, information technology and the internet has led to emergence of domain name issues like typosquatting (where a person registers a domain name similar to a real domain name, but with a typo, in hopes that web surfers reach it by accident), cybersquatting (Cybersquatting is done when domain names are registered, sold or trafficked-in with the intention to make profit from the goodwill of someone else) and pagejacking (when the offender copies part of an existing website, and then puts it up on a different website to make it look like the original).

Therefore, technology and the internet have created new issues with respect to the protection of intellectual property rights and has compromised the rights of individuals who legally own the intellectual property.

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  • Contract and tort law

Internet has ensured that communication is no more restricted to the constraints of geography and time. The speed and ease with which communication as well as transactions take place on the internet has led to the evolution of electronic commerce sector, which provides flexibility to business environment in terms of place, time, space, distance, and payment.

With the growth of e-commerce, there is a rapid advancement in the use of e-contracts. These e-contracts are different from the traditional paper contracts, not just in the form, but also with respect to the specific issues posed by it, for example when exactly is acceptance considered to be communicated on the internet. To address these specific issues, the courts have modified the traditional principles of contract law to adapt to the changing requirements posed by the technology.

Further, the issue of defective softwares as well as cyber defamation require specific deliberation with respect to the applicability of conventional contract and tort law respectively.

  • Jurisdiction

With respect to the issues highlighted above, one of the remedies available to the aggrieved party is to approach the court. However, internet and cyberspace has further created issues in ascertaining appropriate jurisdiction to entertain a suit. The traditional territorial principles become fallible in the computer-world as the Internet greatly diminishes the significance of physical location of the parties, because transactions in cyberspace are not geographically based and are borderless.

A cybercriminal might be a national of one country, operating his computer, in second country and hacking the computer systems of a company located in the third country. If we adopt the traditional territorial principle of jurisdiction, the country from where the cybercriminal is operating his computer will assume jurisdiction over him. But if that country does not have proper legal framework criminalising such cybercrime, then the territorial principle could be made use of for evading criminal liability, as then such criminals will necessarily locate their computers in the jurisdictions with weak or no control over the cybercrime. Thus, the effective prosecution of such a crime can be seriously hampered if proper jurisdictional principles are not evolved.

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This highlights the need to have principles which allow application of extra-territorial jurisdiction in cases of cyber crime.

[1] Computer Misuse Act, 1990 (United Kingdom), Information Technology Act, 2000 (India) etc.

[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Art. 12; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Art. 17.