Law and the military-technology complex

In this month's Bookshelf, The Global Legal Post's Editor-At-Large, Dr David Cowan, picks three books on cybercrime, robots and remote warfare, echoing concerns of a new military-technology complex


The legal landscape is being transformed both within the theory and practice of law, as well as in relation to society and geopolitics. Businesses, governments and individuals alike are being swept along at an unprecedented pace, and a leisurely walk through the law is a dim and distant memory. This means new areas of law are emerging, though obviously rooted in established legal principles and tradition. In this month’s Bookshelf, we look at three areas on the cutting edge of technology law: robotics, cybercrime and remote warfare. They tap into changes in industry, but also interestingly highlight how the military-industrial complex, of which American president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in 1961, has become a new military-technology complex. The law has a critical and central role to play in how technology is revolutionizing our economy, but it is lagging behind and practitioners need to understand some of the foundational issues if they are to come to terms with policy and the future direction of law.

New Perspectives on Cybercrime

By Tim Owen, Wayne Noble & Faye Christabel Speed
Published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2017

This is a timely collection showcasing recent work on cybercrime by members of the Uclan Cybercrime Research Unit, directed by Dr Tim Owen at the KU’s University of Central Lancashire. The approach is theoretical, offering new perspectives on Cybercrime based upon a realist social ontology, alongside suggestions for how research into Cybercrime might move beyond the main theoretical obstacles facing criminological theory. The authors highlight the stagnation of critical criminology and the nihilistic relativism of the postmodern and post-structuralist cultural turn. Such a theoretical mouthful will put off the general reader no doubt, but it shouldn’t, and practitioners could be rewarded if they choose to preservere.

Especially useful is how the authors relate technical legal ideas with neuroscience and behaviour, both themes also impacting our understanding and practice of law. They relate the increasingly important area of neuro-agency to neuro-ethics, and raise questions over the role of determinism and free-will in law. They also look through a genetic-social lens in order to understand better the mutuality between the biological and the social in human behaviour. In these days of widely discussed attitudes about ‘snowflakes’ and social ‘trolls,’ and over-socialised theorizing, these are useful boundaries to discuss. More traditional and foundational areas of law are also covered, such as intellectual property and fraud. Another dimension highlighted is gender, with essays on misogyny and stereotyping.

Big themes, big theories
There are some popular, and certainly, fascinating areas concerning us all which are tackled by the authors, such as cyber-bullying, cyberterrorism and warfare, social grooming and pedophilia, and, free speech and democracy. Big themes, with big theories behind them. However, despite this being an academic and demanding read, it is nonetheless readable, and offers a thoughtful approach for lawyers in practice to get into as time permits. This book is an essential read for practitioners in criminal law and technology, but also for all practitioners. If you don’t read such background now, you will only find it harder going in the future as the technology breaks down boundaries and brings the threat of cybercrime into everyone’s home and office.

Robot Law

By Ryan Calo, A. Michael Froomkin and Ian Kerr
Published by Edward Elgar, 2016

There is a fascinating range of legal and public policy challenges arising from the increasingly rapid use of robots in industry, government and every walk of life. Robot Law is a helpful collation of recent research on robotics law and policy, offering a scholarly inquiry responding to this transformative technology. It is also inter-disciplinary, drawing together expert scholars from law, engineering, computer science and philosophy. They cover a range of topics, including liability, warfare, domestic law enforcement, personhood, and other cutting-edge issues in robotics and artificial intelligence.  The roboticisation of the economy, warfare and social spaces makes it a challenge for us all, and the law has a lot of catching up to do in robotics specifically, as well as technology generally.

A common robotic language
How we model the activity and purposes of robots will influence greatly how we think through the law. This volume provides some great insights into this fundamental problem by offering a foundational definition of robots as non-biological autonomous agents. This allows us to determine the subject matter in more focused ways, essential given the very diverse range of ideas on this, not helped by the fantasy industry of film and fiction. Bryan Walker Smith elaborates on this when he writes a passionate case for lawyers and engineers needing to speak a common robotic language. An argument he underscores by explaining that the two disciplines share much in common. The ethics of robots are also tackled across a number of the essays, each highlighting the problem that the speed of technology outstrips the law and our ethical responses. A common language may help to align the pace of research and product implementation with law and regulation. Areas of gender, consent and sexuality are given particular nuance in this respect.

Defining the field
The reflections offered here will help policy-makers and legal researchers, including in-house units, to navigate these policy challenges. The publishers have an ambition to have this volume form a field-defining look at an area of law that will only grow in importance. There will be tough competition for such defining works, but this is certainly a good start.

Research Handbook on Remote Warfare

By Jens David Ohlin
Published by Edward Elgar, 2017

This volume is well worth a brief mention. It is edited by Jens David Ohlin, Vice Dean and Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, and tackles head-on the fact that the practice of armed conflict has changed radically in the last decade. Cyber-attacks is an area where we see how fragile our world is becoming, and also where the civilian and military spheres of interest overlap, and economic warfare becomes a critical concern. The focal point here is 'remotenes', the nature of which Professor Ohlin calls 'the elephant in the room.' Contributors from legal, government and military backgrounds, address the legal implications of remote warfare and its significance for combatants, civilians, policymakers and international lawyers. The primary focus is on the legality of all forms of remote warfare, including targeted killings by drone, cyber-attacks and autonomous weapons. Each chapter gives a compelling insight beyond the standard and reactionary criticisms of these technologies, and current assumptions are challenged and discussed from a variety of international perspectives. These include governing the use of force, humanitarian law, criminal law, and human rights law. Present regulation is examined, and future directions anticipated and mapped out.

Given what is now a new military-technological complex, we need to understand all three areas covered by these books if we are to grasp the depth of legal challenges that lie ahead.

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