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Cybersecurity and the Law: What You Need to Know

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Worried that your now deleted, unsavory college Facebook photos will come back to haunt you? You should be. Sure, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook allow us to ‘delete’ previous uploads. But was that unflattering photo that you wish never got captured on the world wide web really ‘deleted’ when you removed it? It’s a question many of us ask when moving from college life into a professional setting.

Of course, hackers have far more lucrative ‘secrets’ to dredge up than those of a typical college grad. But what’s stopping someone from holding our best kept ‘secrets’ hostage if they really wanted to? Enter the world of cybersecurity and its much-needed ally cyber law. Here’s how your law degree can make a cyber difference someday. 

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting critical systems and sensitive information from digital attacks. It is a top priority of the U.S. government and what seems to keep the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas up most at night. He notes that in the last few years, the headlines on cyber risk have shifted, from data breaches and espionage to ransomware attacks disrupting hospitals, schools, and energy supplies. 

How is cybersecurity evolving?

Our dependence on the internet and our iPhones (or Android, if you are so inclined) has far exceeded what was even imaginable just a decade ago. The associated difficulty of securing intellectual property, critical data, and your happy snaps from spring break has increased in parallel to our growing use and dependence on technology. 

While the threats are constantly evolving, so too are the architectures designed to protect us against them. The legal field is one of them. 

Cyberlaw generally refers to any law that applies to the internet and internet-related technologies. It’s designed to provide legal protections to internet users, including governments, businesses, and people, and it touches on a broad spectrum of issues, from cybercrime to intellectual property rights. As you can imagine, it is one of the newest and fastest evolving areas of law.

1. Cyber Crime

The hacker who unearths your deleted posts and threatens to distribute them to your friends and colleagues unless you transfer a bunch of crypto coins into an unnamed account is likely guilty of a number of crimes (hello, blackmail), including cyber crimes against you personally (online harassment) and cybercrimes against your property (computer hacking). 

How you can make a difference: Cybercrimes like these are on the rise, which has led to increased scrutiny of how our personal data is collected and stored online and what legal solutions are available when things go wrong. 

2. Intellectual Property Rights

Most of us are engaging with the internet almost all the time (like, you, reading this article right now…), so it’s important that we understand what rights we have when venturing online — and, more importantly, what rights we don’t have. The legal question of whether you own the content you upload to social media is a perfect example of this.

Picture the scene: You just recorded a funny cat video that you’re certain will go viral. This might be your David Dobrik moment, so before thinking twice, you quickly upload it to all your socials. Lo and behold — it’s a hit. The post gets 8 million likes and is shared around the world. Youtuber MrBeast is sliding into your DMs. Dancer Charli D’Amelio wants to collab with you on content. The passive income rolls in, and you’re loving life. That’s until you read the comments. 

Much to your dismay, there is an embarrassing detail in the background of the video (a spring break photo from 2018), which internet sleuths draw attention to. You quickly decide that being an influencer is overrated anyway, so decide to remove the video. Simple as that, right? 

Not quite. Content creators rarely consider the rights they maintain to uploaded content. While most major platforms say that users own intellectual property rights in any content they create and share on the platform, the terms of service (the small print that you said you read, but didn’t) typically grant the platform a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide license” to your content. In other words, clicking ‘delete’ doesn’t simply terminate the platform’s right, or other users’ ability, to keep your content alive. 

How you can make a difference: Moral of the story: Think twice before uploading or get yourself a good cyber lawyer. Or better yet, become one so you know the rules and can protect folks from making this mistake in the first place.