When Might Digital Tech Companies Become Targetable in War?

Jonathan Horowitz, a Legal Advisor at the International Committee of the Red Cross, provides legal assessments and recommendations for digital tech companies operating in wartime. This piece is copublished on Just Security. Private tech companies are increasingly providing both civilians and militaries with digital infrastructure and services utilized during armed conflict. Depending on the circumstances, this might include communications platforms, cloud computing services, and cyber defenses. Some of that infrastructure and some of those services are shared between militaries and civilians, and some are not. The situation in Russia and Ukraine is the most recent armed conflict where we so publicly see this blurred line between civilian and military technologies, but other examples exist. The role of tech companies during wartime is further complicated as governments want to beef up private-public partnerships to protect their domestic critical infrastructure—such as medical services, electricity supplies, and water treatment—from cyber threats. If those governments were to go to war with another country, those companies may be expected to engage in cyber defense activities against military adversaries that, lawfully or not, target those sectors. These trends are presenting tech companies with new operational environments and heightened security risks that could expose their employees, properties, and surrounding civilians to significant harms. That is where international humanitarian law (IHL) comes in. This is the body of law that governs armed conflict (such as the Geneva Conventions), and tech company lawyers and policy makers need to be familiar with it.   IHL places important limits on warfare. In…When Might Digital Tech Companies Become Targetable in War?