Legal aspects of computing are related to the overlapping areas of law and computing. The first one, historically, was information technology law (or IT law). (It should not be confused with the IT aspects of law itself, albeit there is an overlap between the two, as well).
IT Law is a set of legal enactments, currently in existence in several countries, which governs the digital dissemination of both (digitalized) information and software itself (see History of free and open-source software). IT Law covers mainly the digital information (including information security and electronic commerce) aspects and it has been described as “paper laws” for a “paperless environment”.
Cyberlaw or Internet law is a term that encapsulates the legal issues related to use of the Internet. It is less a distinct field of law than intellectual property or contract law, as it is a domain covering many areas of law and regulation. Some leading topics include internet access and usage, privacy, freedom of expression, and jurisdiction.
There is intellectual property in general, including copyright, rules on fair use, and special rules on copy protection for digital media, and circumvention of such schemes. The area of software patents is controversial, and still evolving in Europe and elsewhere.
The related topics of software licenses, end user license agreements, free software licenses and open-source licenses can involve discussion of product liability, professional liability of individual developers, warranties, contract law, trade secrets and intellectual property.
In various countries, areas of the computing and communication industries are regulated – often strictly – by government bodies.
There are rules on the uses to which computers and computer networks may be put, in particular there are rules on unauthorized access, data privacy and spamming. There are also limits on the use of encryption and of equipment which may be used to defeat copy protection schemes. The export of Hardware and Software between certain states is also controlled.
There are laws governing trade on the Internet, taxation, consumer protection, and advertising.
There are laws on censorship versus freedom of expression, rules on public access to government information, and individual access to information held on them by private bodies. There are laws on what data must be retained for law enforcement, and what may not be gathered or retained, for privacy reasons.
In certain circumstances and jurisdictions, computer communications may be used in evidence, and to establish contracts. New methods of tapping and surveillance made possible by computers have wildly differing rules on how they may be used by law enforcement bodies and as evidence in court.
Computerized voting technology, from polling machines to internet and mobile-phone voting, raise a host of legal issues.
Some states limit access to the Internet, by law as well as by technical means.