Does the Internet defy territorial borders?

Keerthi KasturiLaw

Does the Internet defy territorial borders in cyber space

Cyber space may appear to be the epitome of deterritorialisation at work. It is a virtual environment that is based on the ubiquity principle. It appears everywhere and anywhere, and you cannot contain it. Given that human activity is now extending into many geographic locations as well as the virtual environment, there is a need for coordination and, potentially, regulation. Some argue that cyber space is not unique, special, or distinctive, and a purely territorial approach to government is still conceivable.

I tend to distance myself from this viewpoint. Technological developments have transformed the speed of data transmission over the Internet. Moreover, a territorial division of data to regulate cyber space may not make sense. In this situation, cyber space clearly highlights the limits of sovereign powers.

Problems with tracing jurisdiction according to territory

Digital data is transmitted at lightning speed between users and devices worldwide, with little regard for jurisdictional boundaries. Such deterritorialisation presents a significant challenge to the international law of jurisdiction based on territoriality.

Cyber space fundamentally challenges the link between legal significance and physical presence, leading to situations where multiple territories simultaneously experience the effect of an act from a different territory. As a result, determining jurisdiction is not just a technical matter. It involves making political or distributional decisions due to the complexities of cyber space’s impact. States have attempted to resolve disputes over ownership of the commons or of people by referring to formal ideas like sovereignty, territoriality, and extraterritoriality. However, these terms are becoming increasingly ambiguous when it comes to cyber space.

Territoriality, the idea that geographic borders limit a state’s power, actually serves as a check on unlimited state authority. This constraint is complex and not easily defined. Even though states claim authority within their borders, conflicts arise when determining power allocation. Walter Wheeler Cook’s critiques in the 1930s and 1940s revealed the limitations of simplistic territorial assertions. Moreover, vertical constraints exist as states recognise international law, which limits their ability to exert power horizontally across territories. In simpler terms, territoriality limits how much power a state can wield, both within its borders and beyond, as international law restricts the extent of its authority.

Laws that govern cyber space

In the digital age, cyber space blurs borders and challenges traditional legal frameworks. From international treaties to domestic regulations, navigating this complex terrain requires innovative approaches and collaborative solutions.

  • International law: These are existing international law regimes, such as the laws governing the use of force and non-intervention as a matter of treaty law and customary international law. International law can create new regimes, such as including cyber security measures in trade measures in trade agreements.
  • Domestic law: Numerous domestic rules government cyber-related activity. Domestic law concerns mainly involve overlapping and potentially conflicting rules, such as privacy regulations. Domestic law can be administrative, regulatory, constitutional, tort, contract, or criminal.

Some things are guaranteed to remain with the state, while others belong to the market or international governance. States may become familiar with the issues that cyber space offers to territoriality, but they typically attempt to overcome the jurisdictional conundrum by relying on broad interpretations of territoriality or extraterritorial jurisdiction doctrines.

Meta jurisdiction?

The concept of universal jurisdiction presents an intriguing starting point for discussing the legal framework of the metaverse. Establishing a set of fundamental norms, enforceable across all participants, could be achieved by integrating them into the user agreements governing access to the virtual world. However, traditional enforcement mechanisms, reliant on state authority, risk reinforcing existing power structures rather than promoting a global approach to justice.

If the metaverse is to unleash the full potential of the Internet, nefarious actors, Big Tech, or self-interested states exercising digital realpolitik shall not stymie it. Instead, we require a system of meta jurisdiction, that involves diverse stakeholders, including technologists, NGOs, and legal experts, collaborating to enforce global rules. Emphasising the core principles of human rights, environmental sustainability, and fair labour practices in the foundational principles of the meta jurisdiction can foster the development of a decentralised virtual realm that reflects the best aspects of humanity.


The rise of cyber space may prompt greater selectivity, as a message posted on the Internet may have effects everywhere. From an economic standpoint, the role of jurisdictional rules is to internalise externalities to the extent desired or to provide clear allocations of jurisdiction so that they may be reallocated through transactions among states. Globalisation resulted in increased transnational and supernational governance. It also increased the movement of people and capital across geographical borders. As a result, the combination of cyber space and globalisation has created a new order in human existence. This calls for the establishment of a universal cyber space jurisdiction. It is something to think about,

Can cyber space be its own jurisdictional entity?

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