Back about twenty years ago, when the internet was first beginning to gain widespread acceptance by the general public, there was not very much concern about special laws governing the use and activities that took place in cyberspace. Those of us old enough to remember the 90s can recall the funny sounds coming out of the modem as it dialed up and sometimes connected to the Internet at 14.4 bps. You were lucky to be able to see a still photograph and almost certainly had to wait for the connection to buffer for a minute just to view a 10 second video clip.
Cyber Law – Then And Now
Today, technology has advanced so far that you can and will find almost anything you can imagine somewhere on the World-wide web. High speed wireless connections, streaming video, and the integration of smartphones, have given the world instant access to information and very advanced communication capabilities. While technology has many benefits, it also can create many problems. When companies or individuals run into problems that have anything to do with activities on the Internet, an attorney who specializes in cyber law can help settle both civil and criminal disputes.
What is Cyber Law?
Cyber law is a relatively new area of law that is still evolving. It covers legal issues arising out of the use of the Internet. New laws have attempted to place boundaries on what is and is not acceptable behavior on the Internet. Cyber law addresses the ways that we communicate and interact for both social and business purposes.
Legal Issues Covered Under Cyber Law
Cyber law covers a broad spectrum of issues. Both federal and state law may apply to these issues. Following is a partial list of some of the most common issues that may need to be litigated by an attorney skilled in cases related to behavior and activity on the internet.
- Defamation and Libel
- Disputes over Domain Names
- Email and Spam
- Illegal Downloads
- Privacy Rights
- Social Media
- Viruses, Malware and Malicious Attacks
The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act
A federal law enacted in 1999, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) was put into place to limit the registration, trafficking in or use of domain names that was confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, a trademark or personal name. Before this Act became law, enterprising individuals were free to register as many domain names as they wanted and then sell those names for huge profits to companies or individuals that wanted those names for their own websites. While certain generic domain names like cash.com or furniture.com might be desired by a bank or furniture seller, the real problem came in when names like Ford, Coke or McDonald’s were bought up by a few individuals who recognized that they could later sell those names to the multi-billion dollar corporations for hefty profits.
States Have Their Own Cyber Laws
Because the Internet is accessible across every state as well as internationally, it is difficult, if not impossible to have one body control the activity that takes place on the web. Australia has their own set of rules and so does Germany and the United Kingdom. In the United States, many individual states have enacted laws to govern Internet activity that takes place within their borders.
In Florida, for instance, Florida Statute 815.06 makes it a crime to introduce a virus or other malware that will damage or destroy another individual’s software or computer hardware. Florida Statute 1006.147(C) addresses the issue of cyber-bullying. Other states have similar laws to protect their citizens.
Protecting sensitive personal and private information has always been a major concern of individuals using the Internet. In order to transact business, it is often necessary to give your credit card number or banking information. Medical records are particularly personal and HIPPA laws have been enacted to keep such sensitive information from being disclosed to unauthorized third parties. Many people have found out the hard way that posting something on Facebook or sending Emails can disqualify them from getting a job or have other damaging consequences.
An Example of a Cyber Law Case
While case law is far from settled on many issues involving the Internet, there have been numerous lawsuits filed. One type of case involves the defamation or libel of a company by using false reviews. In 2011, Trip Advisor, using the reviews of visitors to its site, identified the Grand Resort, in Pigeon Forge, TN, as the Dirtiest Hotel in the United States. The hotel filed a $10,000,000 law suit, based on defamation of their name and reputation. The court ruled in favor of Trip Advisor saying that the characterization of the hotel was inherently subjective opinion and not objective and verifiable fact.
Future Direction of Cyber Law
As more cases are litigated, existing laws amended, and new laws enacted, it will become clearer as to how individuals and businesses should conduct themselves on the Internet. Almost every major corporation has a legal department that understands cyber law. While the boundaries concerning privacy, social interaction and other activities on the Internet have yet to be solidly established, the rules of behavior are becoming clearer. Over time, cyber law will become as well understood as basic contract law.