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"Not the Wild West." Squadron Leader Emma Lovett, Royal Australian Air Force, Talks Cyberspace and International Law at CyberPoint Speaker Series

BALTIMORE, MD (August 28, 2015) — Squadron Leader Emma Lovett, a Royal Australian Air Force lawyer and an expert on the law of armed conflict, spoke at the CyberPoint Speaker Series on August 26, 2015. Squadron Leader Lovett explained how international law was coming to grips with conflict, crime, and espionage in cyberspace.

Speaking to a diverse group at Betamore, in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood, Squadron Leader Lovett stressed that "war is war," a very serious matter, and that it wasn't to be confused with any simple hacking incident. To characterize a cyber incident as an act of war is a very serious step. And war, in cyberspace or physical space, is conducted with certain rules, generally called the "laws of armed conflict."

Those laws of armed conflict, she explained, have deep roots running back through medieval chivalry into the ancient world, and they emerged against a background of attempts to prevent harm to noncombatants. States have assumed, in both black-letter (statutory) law and customary law, an obligation to set an example in conflict, whether their adversaries are doing so or not.

Some have claimed, Squadron Leader Lovett argued, that cyberspace is a brand-new version of the Wild West. But there are good reasons to think otherwise: "See, for example, the Tallinn Manual." This NATO-produced document adapts very traditional jus ad bellum (conditions under which it's right to go to war—essentially in defense against aggression) and jus in bello (the restrictions on what you can do once you're actively engaged in war, which protect noncombatants and seek to limit unnecessary suffering) to the new cyber domain.

She pointed out that it is indeed US policy to regard the laws of armed conflict as applying to cyberspace, and she commended US official reticence in characterizing some recent cyber crime as acts of war (she particularly approved of characterizing some hacks as "cyber vandalism").

The talk was a very interesting account—with some vigorous and well-informed discussion—of how to understand the spectrum of conflict as it plays out in cyberspace.

(We should note, as Squadron Leader Lovett did, that the views she expressed were her own, and not necessarily those of the Royal Australian Air Force or the United States Department of Defense.)

Squadron Leader Emma Lovett, an expert in international law, particularly the law of armed conflict, joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1997 and is currently assigned to Headquarters, US Air Force, as Australian Exchange Officer (legal), serving as the Chief of the Coalition Law Division in the Directorate of Operations and International Law. Admitted to practice law as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia, in 1994, she holds a current practicing certificate with the Australian Capital Territory and is a Member of the Australian Defence Force Military Bar. She holds bachelor's degrees from the University of Canberra (ecology and natural resources) and the Australian National University (law). She has also earned graduate degrees in environmental law, strategy and policy, and defense studies.

The event was made possible in part by the generous support of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, BW Tech @ UMBC Cyber Incubator and Betamore. The Christian Science Monitor Passcode and the CyberWire were joint media partners for the event. The talk itself was held at Betamore in Baltimore, Maryland.

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