In his chapter, Code is Law (p. 1–8), Lessig argues that political sentiment against repressive and overbearing high-handedness by the government led to a certain sympathetic support for libertarianism and appreciation of freedom of expression and from control. Much has been written on the premise since then, both in support of, or critical of, the premise of this argument (see one argument from CATO here).
In this milieu, “cyberspace” symbolized the romantic notions of a place where freedom would reign, an idealized space which could not be governed, not so much that it was free from governance, the antithetic of “cybernetics” or the “study of control at a distance through devices” (p. 3). The American Society of Cybernetics provides some additional clarity to the debate here.
Indeed, so many of us still believe our actions online are private, free from rules and regulations that govern our offline lives, or somewhat anonymous (see this from Mashable) simply, not subject to the same restrictions that we face offline. Many have often argued that cyberspace is in some ways an “empowering” space, we can be “different” online if we choose to, that society will somehow be more equal and fair online. Here, CPJ in fact presents evidence to the contrary.
Lessig makes an important argument that “liberty in cyberspace does not come from absence of cyberspace” (p. 4). Rather, it comes from building an architecture that “structures and constrains social and legal power, to the end of protecting human values” (p. 4).
If we do not build this architecture deliberately and with care, then, “left to itself, cyberspace itself will become a perfect tool of control” (p. 4). Some more of his thoughts here.
In fact, the tools through which we build this architecture foundations, the values of liberty and freedom, are derived from code. Just as in real life, laws regulate our behaviors and ethics, in cyberspace, code regulates our actions in cyberspace. However, even as “code is law,” there are important differences between the two fundamental concepts.
Thus, in Code is Law, Lessig lays out the different aspects in discussing the “values at stake–substantive and structural” (p. 6). For example, the packet switched exchange of data on the internet using the TCP/IP protocols make the code ignorant of the content and the user, thus making it more challenging to govern the Internet.
In reading this chapter and the links above, in about a page, share your response to this post on the lines of the questions below:
- What are the five different values through which Lessig interrogates what is at stake?
- In introducing each part of the book (part II through part V in pages 7–8, Lessig briefly introduces each issue of concern). Connect these with contemporary news items to tell us how each might still be relevant (or not). (see, for example, my first CATO link for relevant FCC rulings and notes on privacy online).