As the Internet constantly evolves, so do the miscellaneous laws that regulate the internet. These are constantly changing to help provide consumers and citizens with various protections connected to digital assets and online activity.

Cyberspace law generally encompasses miscellaneous legal matters involving the communication, dispersal, and transactions over the internet and other networked devices and technologies.

Some common problems that cyberspace law covers include:

  • Domain Name Disputes: A domain name is the address of a certain website on the internet or the URL. Many businesses use their existing business names or comparable names as domain names. Some disputes may arise as to which business or entity owns or has the right to use a particular domain name.
  • Trademark Infringement: Small changes in a domain name from a similarly named site may be deemed trademark infringement, especially if it results in customer confusion. If you already have a trademark for your business name, and the domain name is taken by someone else, you may have an actionable trademark infringement claim.
  • Cybersquatting Issues: Cybersquatting happens when a party takes your established business name or mark, registers it as a domain name, and waits for you to try to use your business name or mark as your domain name. The guiltless and established business will be pushed to buy from the cybersquatter at a high price.
  • Hacked Emails: Email communications move across many lines to reach their final destination. Email is typically not protected from hackers who desire to know the contents of the email. This can cause miscellaneous problems about privacy and other concerns.

What Are E-Commerce Laws?

E-commerce generally refers to how business or transactions transpire online or digitally. This can include activities ranging from minor retail transactions with a small company to contracts, up to the buying and selling a business.

Many problems can commonly occur in the context of e-commerce in cyberspace. These include:

  • Security and Digital Signatures: Matters such as credit card security, digital signatures, and biometrics can be of concern when performing business online.
  • Contract Formation: Newer legal problems occur when forming a contract in an electric forum. It must still adhere to traditional contract laws, even though there may be discrepancies in how contract terms are delivered and obtained.
  • Internet Providers’ Liability: Internet service providers sometimes face liability when Internet outages happen. This is because they can have devastating consequences on contract formation, business income, and profits (online businesses can lose substantial amounts of daily business if their internet goes out even for a day or part of a day).

What Are Cyber Crimes?

Cyberspace law or cyberlaw also regulates cybercrimes, which may be defined as any crime accomplished through a computer or network. These can include crimes such as:

  • Hacking and other cybersecurity problems and crimes;
  • Miscellaneous copyright and trade secret offenses;
  • Fraud and financial offenses, especially identity theft;
  • Miscellaneous pornography-related charges;
  • Harassment, cyberbullying, or stalking (“cyberstalking”);
  • Drug trafficking;
  • Online terrorism activities;
  • Miscellaneous crimes involving invasions of privacy or breaches of confidential information; and
  • Different other types of crimes.

These crimes can be severe and result in harsh legal penalties, including criminal fines and potential jail or prison sentences. Some of these may result in severe federal charges.

What About Privacy Issues?

Cyberspace law also surrounds miscellaneous privacy matters. As more and more individuals engage in social, financial, and political interactions online, more legal problems will continue to arise—many of these deal with violations of privacy.

In many circumstances, these problems are related to or involved in endeavors to steal one’s identity or monetary assets or subject them to harmful software or internet attacks. Such issues can include:

  • Malware: This is software that bypasses digital security measures and is used to cause harm to a computer, server, or network. This is sometimes expected in a business setting as well.
  • Spyware: This software or other digital mechanisms obtain information from a person’s computer, network, or servers without their permission. This can lead to the theft of confidential data, files, or accounts.
  • Web bugs: Often placed in a web page or email and track a person’s views of the website or email message or other online activity. This can occasionally be used to learn a person’s patterns or passwords.
  • Phishing: This involves getting user names, passwords, credit cards, or bank information through targeted invasions. It can often be prosecuted as a crime. For example, a phishing scheme may target specific groups of individuals, such as senior citizens.
  • Pharming: This activity diverts traffic from a website to a different internet address. This can create business losses and miscellaneous other types of legal matters.
  • Social engineering: This uses many tactics to fool someone into revealing confidential data. For example, a person may pose as a military serviceman and try to gather donations from another individual on a social media website.

How Common Are State Internet Privacy Acts?

Today, nearly every state has an Internet privacy law in effect. Minnesota and Nevada led the way with their prototype Privacy Act heavily founded on the various federal Internet privacy acts that already existed, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Consumer Internet Privacy Protection Act, and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

What Is the Primary Purpose of These Privacy Acts?

State internet privacy acts are generally interested in supporting Internet service provider subscriber information confidentiality. These acts apply to physical hosts of a site and apply to companies providing third-party services to web users.

How Do These Privacy Acts Work?

Internet privacy legislation provides that unless a subscriber gives consent in writing or by electronic mail, all data concerning the subscriber other than the subscriber’s e-mail address must be kept secret by the Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The statute prohibits ISPs from revealing personally identifiable subscriber information with specific exceptions. These statutes generally provide that any ISP that disregards the statute will be guilty of a misdemeanor and penalized by a fine of not less than $50 or more than $500 for each violation.

How Is a Service Provider Defined Under These Acts?

For purposes of the statute, an Internet service provider (ISP) includes a provider of Internet service who charges a subscriber for access to the Internet or the subscriber’s email address.

The definitions of an ISP under these statutes also include businesses or individuals who supply consumers authenticated access to, or presence on, the Internet through means of a switch or dedicated telecommunications channel but does not include offering telecommunications or telecommunications facilities on a common carrier basis.

What Makes a Piece of Information “Personally Identifiable” to a Particular Person?

Personally identifiable information includes data that:

  • Specifies a consumer by physical address, electronic address, or telephone number
  • Identifies a consumer as requesting or obtaining specific materials or services from the provider
  • Identifies the Internet or online sites visited by a consumer
  • Identifies any contents of a consumer’s data storage devices

When Can an ISP Be Forced to Divulge Private Information?

State Internet privacy statutes typically allow disclosure of personally identifiable information in the following circumstances:

  • In response to a grand jury subpoena
  • To aid an investigative or law enforcement agency, according to a court order in particular civil proceedings
  • To the consumer upon written or electronic request and upon payment of a fee, or according to a subpoena, warrant, or court order
  • To any individual, if the exposure is incident to the ordinary course of business of the provider
  • To other Internet service providers to register or stop violations of the published acceptable use policy or the customer agreement of the provider
  • To any individual with the consumer’s consent

Do ISPs Have to Make Efforts to Protect My Information?

Many statutes require ISPs to take appropriate steps to preserve the security and privacy of a consumer’s personally identifiable information. All statutes allow an ISP to obtain customer approval to release private data. This is done by employing either an opt-out or an opt-in procedure to determine the user’s attitude towards the disclosure of data.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If a company has disclosed valuable private data and you have suffered damages, as a result, the ISP may be liable to you for breach of contract and reasonably related damages, as well as civil penalties from the state where the ISP does business.

Contacting a business lawyer will enable you to determine where, when, and for how much you may wish to sue the wrongdoer for.