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An Assessment of International Legal Issues in Information Operations

Certain concepts of information operations and information warfare can be covered by current traditional military rules, such as jamming signals, psychological operations, and military deception. However, international law cannot be applied to other areas of information attacks, such as an attack on computer networks. One question is whether the initial computer network attack will be considered an armed attack that elicits a similar retaliation. If the initial attack is considered an armed attack, then a similar retaliation should be justified out of self-defense. A bigger question is whether or not using traditional military attacks as retaliation in response to a computer network attack is a legitimate response. Another issue is if the response does disproportionate damage to the initial striker. To determine the legitimacy of its action, the retaliating actor should consult world opinion or an international body such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the UNSC. Attribution and espionage remain difficult concepts to tackle with existing international laws of war. Though a few information operations activities may fall under the category of espionage, most information operations are unlikely to fall under the definition of espionage during wartime. Many information operation activities fall under the category of peacetime espionage. The usual response to such operations that do not result in dramatic consequences has been tepid.
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