LENS Essay Series: “‘Point and Shoot’: How Technology Blurs the Lines Between Civilians and Combatants”

Could using a cell phone get a civilian lawfully targeted in war?  Maybe.

The Ukraine conflict has seen many uses of technology–new and old–that are relevant not only with respect to the current fighting, but which also could significantly influence the ways wars are fought in the future.  Some of these uses have the potential to ‘democratize’ people’s participation in conflicts far beyond service in their nation’s armed forces.

Prominent among these is the role of app-equipped cell phones that enable millions of ordinary citizens to involve themselves in a truly unprecedented way in their military’s conduct of tactical combat operations. 

What does this technological empowerment mean in the context of the law of war which holds, among other things, that civilians who directly participate in hostilities may become lawful targets? The latest installment of the LENS Essay Series has some answers for you.

Duke Law 3L Katie Fink brilliantly addresses this immensely complex topic in her essay, “‘Point and Shoot’: How Technology Blurs the Lines Between Civilians and Combatants.” Here’s the abstract:

New forms of technology continue to transform the nature of warfare, offering more opportunities for civilians to directly participate in hostilities. For example, in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian civilians have been using the Diia and ePPO apps to report Russian military activity to Ukraine’s armed forces. By acting as spotters, civilians’ use of the Diia and ePPO apps likely constitutes direct participation in hostilities under both the ICRC’s Interpretive Guidance and the U.S. Department of Defense Law of War Manual.

By blurring the line between civilians and combatants, use of these apps may expose millions of civilians to lawful targeting in war. To protect civilians, the law must be updated to reflect the technological realities of modern-day warfare. As a starting point, both the attacking and defending parties to a conflict should have an affirmative duty to warn civilians of the potential consequences of their direct participation in hostilities. While developing a new legal standard, the international legal community must remain cognizant of establishing new precedents that address technology’s role in warfare appropriately.

You’ll really want to read the full article, and you can find it here.

About the author

Katie Fink (J.D. 2024) is a third-year student at Duke University School of Law. Originally from Denver, Colorado, Katie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a B.A. in Political Science. During her 1L summer, Katie interned with Judge G. Michael Harvey in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

During her 2L summer, Katie worked in Washington, D.C. as a Summer Associate at Williams & Connolly. At Duke, Katie is the Senior Notes Editor for Duke Law Journal, works as a Teaching Assistant for Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing, and serves on the Moot Court and Mock Trial Boards.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!

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