These days, many people see technology companies as indifferent to law, or at least interested in remaining under-regulated. When Mark Zuckerberg called on Congress to regulate how social media companies should handle challenges such as harmful content and data privacy, the request was unusual enough to make headlines. This real or perceived disinterest in legal regulation has troubled a host of people, including those worried about protecting privacy and freedom of expression.

But there may be another story to be told here too—at least the start of one. In the past two years, a number of companies have invoked international law justifications to decline to make their products available to states that, in their view, will use those products to violate international law. Put another way, a number of corporate actors have made decisions that effectively enforce international law against states, or at least make it harder for those states to undertake acts that violate international law. Because people don’t tend to think of corporations as actors that monitor and regulate international law compliance, these corporate examples are worth analyzing.

Ashley S. Deeks, A New Tool for Tech Companies: International Law, Lawfare (May 30, 2019).