Law in the virtual world

3 December 2015

Wayne Rumbles

Associate Professor Wayne Rumbles says lawyers and judges need to become more familiar with laws around cyber security.

When we think cyber security, we don’t automatically link it to the law, but with more and more business and personal affairs being carried out on the internet, lawyers and judges need to get up to speed on the role law can play in cyber security.

Associate Professor Wayne Rumbles, Dean of Law at the University of Waikato is a cyber law specialist. He says possession of virtual assets has become an essential for modern-day living, but the need for security and privacy is a matter for concern.

“The issue is complicated by the fact that material on the internet often isn’t physically located in any one place so it can be difficult to identify theft,” Associate Professor Rumbles says.

“Then there’s a further complication; how do we determine what material is properly in the public world and what remains private in the network environment. The Cloud and Google docs are grey areas for example.”

Associate Professor Rumbles says it’s only a matter of time before New Zealand courts are faced with a case of ‘virtual property’ theft and we need to be prepared for it. “Lawyers need to understand the boundaries of publicity and privacy, but also how the law works across countries – whose law applies when a theft arises?”

Traditionally, the law--computer science combination hasn’t been a popular area of study, but Associate Professor Rumbles says this has got to change. He teaches several papers on New Zealand’s only master’s degree in cyber security, taught at Waikato University.

“Cyber security graduates are going to be the ones who explain legal or technical consequences to the courts, so they need to understand the complexity of cyber law and be able to explain to a jury if necessary. These are going to be the people who effect and direct legal change.”