|Sovereignty is a core principle of international law. According to a widely accepted definition in the Island of Palmas arbitral award of 1928,|
[s]overeignty in the relations between States signifies independence. Independence in regard to a portion of the globe is the right to exercise therein, to the exclusion of any other State, the functions of a State.According to multiple declarations by the UN, NATO, OSCE, the European Union,  and individual States, international law applies in cyberspace, and hence also the principle of sovereignty applies in cyberspace. It is the subject of some debate to what extent this principle operates as a standalone rule of international law.
The remainder of this section proceeds on the basis of the former "sovereignty-as-rule" approach. Those espousing the latter "sovereignty-as-principle" approach should refer to the prohibition of intervention.
The "internal" facet of sovereignty entails that "[a] State enjoys sovereign authority with regard to the cyber infrastructure, persons, and cyber activities located within its territory, subject to its international legal obligations."
Each State's sovereignty is protected by international law from violation by other States. It is clear that a cyber operation with severe destructive effects, comparable to a "non-cyber" armed attack or a use of force against a State, constitutes a violation of its sovereignty; however, with more subtle cyber operations, the question is far from settled.
The following options have been proposed in the Tallinn Manual 2.0:
Notes and references
- Island of Palmas (Neth. v. U.S.), 2 RIAA 829, 838 (Perm. Ct. Arb. 1928).
- UNGA Res 71/237 (30 December 2015) UN Doc A/RES/20/237.
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 'Wales Summit Declaration' (issued by the Head of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Wales (5 September 2015) para 72.
- Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Decision No. 1202, OSCE Confidence-Building Measures to Reduce the Risks of Conflict Stemming from the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (Permanent Council, 10 March 2016) PC.DEC/1202.
- Council of the European Union,"Council Conclusions on the Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council: Resilience, Deterrence and Defence: Building strong cybersecurity for the EU" (Council conclusions, 20 November 2017),
- Michael N Schmitt, 'Virtual Disenfranchisement: Cyber Election Meddling in the Grey Zones of International Law' (2018) 19 ChiJIntlL 30,40; Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 2 (‘States shoulder an obligation to respect the sovereignty of other States as a matter of international law’).
- See Michael N Schmitt and Liis Vihul, ‘Respect for Sovereignty in Cyberspace’ (2017) 95 Tex. L. Rev. 1639, 1649 (noting that States ‘voiced no meaningful objection to Rule 4’ and that ‘it appeared to be received knowledge that a primary rule on territorial-sovereignty violations existed and applied to cyber operations.’).
- Gary P. Corn and Robert Taylor, ‘Sovereignty in the Age of Cyber’ (2017) 111 AJIL Unbound 207, 208.
- Gary P. Corn was the Staff Judge Advocate at the US Cyber Command and Robert Taylor was Former Principal Deputy General Counsel at the US Department of Defense. See, Gary P. Corn and Robert Taylor, ‘Sovereignty in the Age of Cyber’ (2017) 111 AJIL Unbound 207, 207.
- Jeremy Wright, ‘Cyber and International Law in the 21st Century’ (23 May 2018) (‘The UK Government’s position is … that there is no such rule as a matter of current international law.’).
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, rule 2.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, rule 4.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 6.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 7; commentary to rule 32, para 9.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 11.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 12.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 13.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 14.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 15.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 16.
- Tallinn Manual 2.0, commentary to rule 4, para 2.