International Law in Cyberspace

Course content

At present, the application of international law in cyberspace is one of the most pressing and controversial issues in international legal scholarship as well as in practice. In the course of the past decades, cyberspace has progressively become a part of the daily life of more than half of the world’s population. In spite of the vast benefits of this technological development, cyberspace has also brought about new threats and vulnerabilities.


Building legal resilience so that malicious and hostile cyber conduct (below the threshold of armed conflict) may be deterred and countered without the risk of undue conflict escalation is of particular concern to small, high-income welfare states like Denmark, which have spearheaded the shift to ‘e-government’. Indeed, the increasing digitalization in such countries makes their public sectors particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks aimed at eroding the traditionally high level of trust in state authorities. Moreover, many of their private businesses are at risk of suffering substantial financial losses in cyber-attacks.


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the principal scholarly debates concerning international legal regulation in cyberspace as well as the ongoing development of state practice on this issue.


The overall aim of the course is to:

  • Provide students with a working knowledge of the international legal framework regulating cyberspace
  • Develop students’ understanding of the applicability of existing international legal norms in cyberspace and the development of new norms to fit new factual circumstances
  • Develop students’ awareness of the interplay between various specialized disciplines of international law, including e.g. international human rights law and diplomatic law, with regard to cyberspace.


To achieve this aim, the following issues will be addressed in the readings and class discussions:

A: General International Law and Cyberspace

1. The Concept of Sovereignty

2. Due Diligence and Jurisdiction

3. The Law of International Responsibility

4. Countermeasures and Necessity as Circumstances Precluding Wrongfulness

5. Consequences of Wrongful Acts Committed in Cyberspace

B: Specialized Disciplines of International Law and Cyberspace

6. International Human Rights Law

7. Diplomatic and Consular Law

8. International Telecommunication Law

C: International Peace and Security and Cyber Activities

8. Prohibition of Intervention

9. The Use of Force & Self-Defence

10: Collective Security

Learning outcome

The course provides the students with knowledge of:

  • The applicability of general principles and rules of international law to cyber activities
  • The specific way in which the law of state responsibility applies in the context of cyberspace
  • The consequences of violating international law in cyberspace
  • The role of specialized disciplines of international law, including e.g. international human rights law, in cyberspace
  • International peace and security in relation to cyberspace


On the basis thereof, the course provides the students with the following skills:

  • The ability to interpret and apply international legal norms pertaining to cyber activities
  • The ability to solve conflicts between international legal norms applicable to cyber activities


Based on those skills the course provides the students with the following competences:

  • The ability to reflect upon both the benefits and the problems of regulating of cyberspace in international law
  • The ability to reflect upon the overall consequences of ongoing development of international law pertaining to cyberspace

Seminars: Seminars will include a significant amount of casework and student presentations. Students will get feedback on their work/presentations from both the teacher and each other (see further above at 6). One seminar will be devoted to a moot court exercise.

Blended learning: To ensure that the students’ learning activities do not only take place in the “classroom”, but also in between seminars, the course will involve online activities. Student wikis and blogs will be set up on Absalon to facilitate students’ reflection on and discussion of the course material online - under the teachers’ supervision.

Field trip: The teachers will organize a trip to e.g. the Centre for Cyber Security, Ministry of Defence, during the course.

Academic publications:

  • Michael Schmitt (general editor), Tallinn Manual 2.0. on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations (Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 1-231, 284-371 (317 pages)
  • Nicholas Tsagourias, ‘The legal status of cyberspace’ in Nicholas Tsagourias and Russell Buchan (eds.), Research Handbook on International Law and Cyberspace (Edward Elgar, 2015), pp. 13-29 (16 pages)
  • Nicholas Tsagourias, ‘The law applicable to countermeasures against low intensity cyber operations’, Baltic Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 14, 2015, pp. 105-123 (18 pages)
  • Russell Buchan, ‘Cyber espionage and international law’ in Nicholas Tsagourias and Russell Buchan (eds.), Research Handbook on International Law and Cyberspace (Edward Elgar, 2015), pp. 168-189 (22 pages)


(Total 373 pages)


As supplementary reading, the course will study the growing body of state practice pertaining to the international law in cyberspace. So far, the following statements of governments are available:  


In addition, the course will follow closely the international processes/negotiations on international law and cyber space. Under the auspices of the UN, for example, both an Open-Ended Working Group and a Group of Governmental Experts are currently addressing cybersecurity. 

The course presupposes a basic knowledge of public international law, e.g. equivalent to public international law at the BA-level. Students who have not previously taken a course on public international law must be prepared to acquire such knowledge on their own prior to the first seminar (reading material will be recommended by the teacher).

Participants must have a working knowledge of English

The course is a part of the iCourts Excellence Programme.

The course is relevant to the Faculty’s strategy to create the links between law and the digital development. The objective and teaching material of the course directly concern international legal challenges arising from digitalization. Moreover, the planned blended learning activities aim to facilitate a partly digitalized learning environment throughout the course.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 min.
Oral exam based on a synopsis, 20 minutes
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 178,25
  • Seminar
  • 28
  • English
  • 206,25