Author: Duncan B. Hollis

Nuclear symbol with binary code and random images

Russia and the DNC Hack: What Future for a Duty of Non-Intervention?

There are lots of important issues implicated by this morning’s above-the-fold story in the New York Times that U.S. officials and certain cybersecurity experts (e.g., Crowdstrike) have concluded Russian government agencies bear responsibility for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s servers and leaking internal e-mails stored on them to Wikileaks (Russian responsibility for the hack itself was alleged more than a month ago).  The domestic fall-out is already on evidence with theresignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and I’m sure we’ll see other impacts here in Philadelphia at this week’s Convention (although Senator Sanders so far is not using the event to walk back his endorsement of Hillary Clinton). U.S. national security officials are treating the news as a national security and counter-intelligence issue (as they absolutely should). But what does international law have to say about a foreign government obtaining and leaking e-mails about another country’s on-going election processes? This is obviously not a case violating Article 2(4) since that only prohibits the “threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” …

The Supreme Court of the United States

Justice Scalia’s Rule of Law Efforts

Justice Scalia’s passing comes as a shock and is generating tributes across ideological lines. Indeed, whether you agreed with his opinions or not (and I was not a fan of his thinking on cases likeSosa or Bond), Justice Scalia’s opinions deserved to be read. Lines like “never-say-never jurisprudence” and “oh-so-close-to-relevant cases” are some of my personal favorites. Readers should feel free to add their own in the comment section. In the meantime, I wanted to pay tribute to a side of Justice Scalia that has garnered relatively little attention — his dedication to promoting the rule of law. For the last sixteen years, Temple Law has run a rule of law program in Beijing hosted at Tsinghua University’s School of Law. We offer an LLM to classes of 50 Chinese judges, prosecutors and lawyers, in an effort to acquaint them with the U.S. legal system and the rule of law more generally. As part of the program, the Chinese students visit Philadelphia for the summer, which includes a day trip to D.C. And nearly every year the highlight of that D.C. …


Autonomous Legal Reasoning: Legal and Ethical Issues in the Technologies of Conflict

One of the highlights of my Fall semester was the opportunity to host a one-day workshop at Temple Law on how autonomous technology may impact the future of international humanitarian law (IHL) and the lawyers who practice it.  With co-sponsorship from the International Committee of the Red Cross (specifically, Rob Ramey and Tracey Begley) as well as Gary Brown of Marine Corps University, we wanted to have an inter-disciplinary conversation on the way autonomy may implicate the practice of law across a range of new technologies, including cyberwar, drones, and the potential for fully autonomous lethal weapons.  Although these technologies share common characteristics — most notably their ability (and sometimes their need) to operate in the absence of direct human control — discursive silos have emerged where these technologies tend to be discussed in isolation. Our workshop sought to bridge this divide by including experts on all three technologies from an array of disciplinary backgrounds, including IHL, political science, and ethics (see here for a list of participants).  Fortunately, the day itself lived up to the hype, with a detailed …

Data Hacking

Cyber War – A Duty to Hack and the Boundaries of Analogical Reasoning

Back in 2012, I was pleased to receive an invitation to a conference that Jens, Kevin Govern, and Claire Finkelstein were hosting on the law and ethics of cyberwar.  It was a great conversation; so great, in fact, that Jens and his colleagues were inspired to use it as the launching pad for this volume — Cyberwar: Law and Ethics for Virtual Conflicts.  They asked me to write a chapter on an idea I’d been thinking about since my first foray into the cyber arena back in 2007 — whether and when IHL (international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict for those of you trained in the United States) might involve a duty to hack?  The basic idea was straightforward — if a cyber-operation could achieve a military objective (say disabling a power grid or a war-supporting factory’s operations) without killing anyone or causing any lasting damage to the facility, shouldn’t IHL require States to employ it in lieu of kinetic operations that might cause civilian casualties or property damage? Looking at the …

Alter Hall Flags

Interpretation and International Law

As an activity, interpretation in international law is ubiquitous, involving all types of facts, processes, doctrines, values, and theories. As a concept, however, international legal interpretation has played a much smaller role. Until recently, international lawyers largely associated interpretation with a limited set of objects (treaties), methods (those found in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties), and functions (the exposition of meanings). In this short chapter, I problematize such traditional understandings of interpretation in international law. I explain how standard accounts oversimplify interpretation’s role in the treaty context; international law has moved beyond the Vienna Convention’s text to include larger questions about treaty interpretation’s scope, nature, and purpose. At the same time, interpretation’s fixation on treaties understates its potential to reach additional objects, methods, and functions. The proliferation of international tribunals, institutions, and non-treaty instruments offer new objects for interpretation that require methodologies beyond the Vienna Convention, whether drawn from law or other disciplines. And, while the core of interpretation retains its expository function, the concept can (and does) serve other functions, …

Duncan Hollis

Obama Might Have Committed the US to Iran Nuke Deal Before Congress Can Vote on It

James E. Beasley Professor of Law Duncan Hollis is quoted in this piece by Vice News on the Iran nuclear deal. According to legal scholars, the deal is technically more of a “political commitment” than it is a treaty. Therefore, a potential veto-proof majority in Congress that rejects the agreement might prove to be of little legal consequence in determining the fate of the pact. Read the full article here.