The Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Analyzing Legal Aspects of Cyber Espionage in International Law

POL 305 – Public International Law: Research Paper

By Alyazya Alkhazraji and Yuvika Bhatia

Written in 2018


The context, activities, and area of espionage are extensive. It can be conducted either through hiring spies, people that secretly gather information from within a country or organization or through an impermissible entry or hacking of technological infrastructures of a country or organization i.e. cyber-espionage. Considering the current context and reality of the global order in the digital age, cyber-espionage constitutes a serious threat to established institutions, functioning and operations of states. In particularity, cyber governmental espionage has become the center of many debates in the current age due to the complicated and extensive area of activities that constitute cyber-espionage. In terms of addressing the issue of cyber-espionage, international law seems likely to be the only institution with jurisdiction to define and govern cyber-espionage as it involves more than two states, with one committing to threaten the security of one or more states. All over the news recently is the recent 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and the Russian interference and has been considered by politicians, government officials and lawyers as an act of espionage and foreign intervention that had severely undermined the democratic system of the United States. Since espionage is often an extraterritorial state action that transcends across more than two states, this paper aims to assess the legality or illegality of espionage within the framework of international law by putting a primary focus on analyzing the legal or illegal aspects of the Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.


Table of Contents:

  1. Definition of Espionage and Evidence of its Prohibition in Sources of International Law
    1.1 Scholarly literature on the prohibition of espionage in international law
    1.2 Prohibition of espionage in customary international law
    1.3 Prohibition of espionage by general principles of international law
    1.4 Overall and additional assessment of the legality of the acts and activities of espionage in international law
  2. The Russian Interference of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections 
    2.1 The intervention violates Russia’s obligations in ICCPR, a multilateral treaty
    2.2 Violation of the notion or principle of domain réservé or state sovereignty.
    2.3 The intervention was illegal due to evidence of coercive nature and an illegal usurpation of a government function.
  3. Conclusion


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