Thoughts on Researching Comparative Law

This week I returned to drafting a literature review on the same topics as my presentations at the ICT Camp: comparative cyber law, data privacy, and digital human rights.


The Internet has made my research relatively easy, yet time consuming. While as a general rule, I try to stick to Cambodian sources, there are really only a few local sources available: news articles, studies by civil society, and the letter of the law itself; because I am not fluent in Khmer, I am limited to English sources—though English is frequently used as a working language by professionals in Cambodia.


With only two or three newspapers, a handful of civil society organizations, and partially developed, relatively vague law, there is little to go on. Other sources in the ASEAN are variable: Singapore’s law is long, detailed, has been amended recently, and is subject to common law interpretation by judicial decisions. Other nations’ laws are less developed than Cambodia’s, so offer little in the way of comparison.


My report’s initial sections will take the three threads of Cambodia’s Constitution, international human rights law, and the evolution of the Internet and digital technology, and weave them together. Human rights problems and solutions occur in every country, therefore it is my belief that when discussing human rights, it is important to cite diverse examples, as long as they are relevant to the case at hand. By comparing issues in Cambodia to issues in the U.S., the EU, or China, we can discover which problems are more universal, and which are localized. More importantly, since the Internet is a global phenomenon which has had a homogenizing influence on culture, it may be less of a problem to cite cross-cultural examples.


In U.S. law, huge, annotated, optimized legal databases allow an easy search of judicial opinions and an efficient categorization of the hierarchy of authority. I find that international legal research is to U.S. legal research as pre-serial atonality is to the counterpoint of Bach—there are almost too many possibilities, and the lack of fixed reference makes it significantly harder to put together. After the first year of law school, U.S. students seeking to engage with international law must almost unlearn their reliance on the big databases, and become more creative and omnivorous in sources, while retaining the general principles of strong citation and recognizing the most persuasive authority.