Law & Social Change: Technology, Ethics and International Law

Quick Info
(2751L.03)  Course
Professor S. Saberi & L. El Malak; Adjunct Professor
3 credit(s)  3 hour(s);
lectures; class discussion; interactive activities
Upper Year Research & Writing Requirement

Technology has great potential to change and shape law, including international law, in significant ways.  Various building blocks of international law ranging from norm-making and norm-application to its functions, and processes and actors, are and could further be impacted by technological advancement.  But is this a new phenomenon and are these changes structural?  Speculations about the consequences of emerging technologies and digitalization for law are all-the hype in legal scholarship and practice today, but is it really different this time around and are we in fact facing unprecedented possibilities, promises and perils?

Inspired by these questions, this course offers a bird’s eyes review of the ways in which technology has impacted the evolution and function of international law and whether and how the latter has succeeded in adapting to the changes resulting from technological advancement over time.  To do so, it takes a step back and first asks what ‘technology’ is by tracing the footprint of various examples of innovation in the development of international law such as the introduction of new methods and machinery of warfare, exploration of space and so on. To avoid abstract generalizations, it examines the development of a number of doctrinal fields of international law separately in their encounter with technology.  To that end, we will borrow from both secondary literature and existing jurisprudence, and seek to ground our hope or anxiety about the future of emerging technologies in realism and lessons of the past and present instead of speculating about what may come.

More specifically, we will consider how technology has changed and will continue to change actors in international law; how it impacts fundamental characteristics of its rules; and how it will shape its normative values.  We will pursue these questions in the context of doctrinal fields as varied as territoriality in a digital age, the new forms of non-intervention and use of force and cyberspace, weaponization of social media and its impact on inter-state relations, the technology of war, corporate responsibility against the backdrop of new interactions facilitated by further digitalization, international health law and digitalization, climate change and emerging technologies, Biometric data and counterterrorism, future of labour in a digital time and its relationship to socio-economic rights, distribution of global goods such as humanitarian assistance and human rights education in a digitally-connected world, and technology-race and the future of the global order.