Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Legal aspects of computing
There are many legal aspects to computing - some of which are listed below. The approach taken to these tends to vary greatly between jurisdictions.
Areas of law
There is intellectual property in general, including copyright, rules on fair use, and special rules on copy prevention for digital media, and circumvention of such prevention schemes. The area of software patents is controversial, and still evolving in Europe and elsewhere.
The related topics of software licenses, end user license agreements, free software licenses and open-source licenses can involve discussion of product liability, professional liability of individual developers, warranties, contract law, trade secrets and intellectual property. As of early 2004, open-source licenses have not been tested in the courts.
In various countries, areas of the computing and communication industries are regulated - often strictly - by government bodies.
There are rules on the uses to which computers and computer networks may be put, in particular there are rules on unauthorized access, data privacy and spamming. There are also limits on the use of encryption and of equipment which may be used to defeat copy prevention schemes. The export of Hardware and Software between certain states is also controlled.
There are laws governing trade on the Internet, taxation, consumer protection, and advertising.
There are laws on censorship versus freedom of expression, rules on public access to government information, and individual access to information held on them by private bodies. There are laws on what data must be retained for law enforcement, and what may not be gathered or retained, for privacy reasons.
In certain circumstances and jurisdictions, computer communications may be used in evidence, and to establish contracts. New methods of tapping and surveillance made possible by computers have wildly differing rules on how they may be used by law enforcement bodies and as evidence in court.
Computerized voting technology, from polling machines to internet and mobile-phone voting, raise a host of legal issues.
Some states limit access to the internet, by law as well as by technical means.
With the internationalism of the Internet, jurisdiction is a much more tricky area than before, and courts in different countries have take various views on whether they have jurisdiction over items published on the Internet, or business agreements entered into over the Internet. This can cover areas from contract law, trading standards and tax, through rules on unauthorized access, data privacy and spamming to more political areas such as freedom of speech, censorship, libel or sedition.
Certainly, the frontier idea that the law does not apply in "Cyberspace" is not true. In fact, conflicting laws from different jurisdictions may apply, simultaneously, to the same event.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for the protection of free expression in all media.
Relating to jurisdiction over the Internet, Internet governance is a live issue in international fora such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the role of the current US-based co-ordinating body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was discussed in the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003.
- "In Cyberspace, the First Amendment is a local ordinance."
-- John Perry Barlow, quoted by Mitchell Kapor in the foreword to The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet
- "National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."
-- Tim May, signature, from 1996
- "The more laws, the less justice." -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis, 44 BC
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
- Universal v. Reimerdes - test of DMCA
- Export of cryptography
- Wassenaar Arrangement
- Bernstein v. United States - on free speech protection of software
- http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/ - Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School
- http://grep.law.harvard.edu/ - Greplaw is a news and discussion site for legal and computing issues.
- http://www.eff.org/ - The Electronic Frontier Foundation works for individuals' rights.
- http://www.legalarchiver.org/safe.htm - Text of the United States' Security And Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Act.
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