Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lessig's "Code is Law"

In his article, “Code is Law”, Lawrence Lessig explores many intriguing and controversial points that clearly relate to our lecture in class on free expression and, more importantly, that affect our own lives daily, as we are products of this technologically advanced era.  As we learned in class, Lawrence Lessig is the main contributor to creating a theoretical framework for the dangers and pitfalls regarding the way that the Internet is developing regarding free speech.  He argues that throughout history, people have always been obsessed with protecting our rights and liberty, meaning “freedom from government”.  Every age “has its potential regulator, its threat to liberty”.  Because the government isn’t completely and directly involved with regulation of the Internet, however, Americans, who are obsessed with their Constitutional rights, have not perceived this threat to be quite so invasive—until recently, that is.  Lessig argues that the code of cyberspace is changing, and with this change inevitable comes change in the character of cyberspace.  He is worried that the rights that we value and take advantage of every day—our anonymity, free speech and individual control—will no longer be protected.  The nature and features of the Internet, however, make it nearly impossible for the Government to regulate.  But the regulator for us in the age of cyberspace is code—that which sets the terms on which life in cyberspace is experienced—and that is what we should be really worried about.  If theses rights were to be taken away from us in any capacity, people would surely be outraged and consider it a serious breech of their First Amendment rights.

Many people view the fact that the Internet is nearly impossible to regulate based on the very nature of this special medium as a virtue, as it protects their freedoms and liberty.  The problem with the unregulability of the Net, however, is that many people don’t regard it as a virtue when it comes to offensive and inappropriate information that appear and can be proliferated throughout the Web (e.g. Nazi speech, child pornography and Internet commerce).  Many people believe that there is nothing that can be done because the Internet, by virtue, is unregulatable.  But others are seriously concerned with the future of regulation and how that will infringe upon their rights.  Thus, we (as Americans) must weigh our options and determine what we value more regarding the Internet, security or freedom/liberty?  What do you think?  Do you worry about young children (perhaps, your children in the future) viewing inappropriate material on the Internet because there is not enough regulation?  Or are you more concerned about your Constitutional rights and protecting your freedom? 

Lessig argues, “the code is not fixed.  The architecture of cyberspace is not given.  Unregulability is a function of code, but the code can change…other architectures can make behavior on the Net fundamentally regulable.”  So, the future lies in the architecture of the code.  The question remains as to whether or not there is a balance that can be struck when it comes to regulating the Internet.  Can experts make it so that regulation can be flexible or individualized?  Do you think that the concept of certification in cyberspace is realistic and would, in fact, work?  Ultimately, Lessig believes that “the choice about code and law will be a choice about values.” 

Thus, we must consider whether or not we should play an active role in determining this code, since it will naturally dictate our values in the future.  Herein lies another fundamental problem with the issue of code regulation.  Because our era is “skeptical about self-government” and “obsessed with leaving things alone”, people believe that we should leave the Internet alone and keep the government out so that it will develop naturally on its own.  Within this argument is the essential fact that the code both regulates and implements values on its own, whether we want it to or not.  Therefore, “our choice is not between ‘regulation’ and ‘no regulation’.”  Coders will always be regulating cyberspace, but it is our choice whether or not we want to be involved in this procedure.  Should we leave it up to the technological experts (coders), or are we so concerned about infringement upon our rights that we must take part in the development of the Internet as well?  And how much control should we be granted?  The bottom line according to Lessig is that “the law of cyberspace will be how cyberspace codes it, but we will have lost our role in setting that law” if we do not seriously consider the effect that the Internet has on our Constitutional rights and values.  





  1. No matter what the public wants, the government will regulate what and how it wants to despite opponents to web regulation. It seems to me that the government can always find loopholes in order to get what they want. Keep this in mind, colonists came to america to avoid steep taxes in Brittian. However, as noticed by every American, the goverment still tries to claim a third of people's earnings. Thus, though many rights will be put into question, the government will regulate how it feels accordingly especially when considering explicit material.

  2. I was most interested in Lessig's discussion of certification architecture. This has already been implemented with server architecture in businesses scenarios called certificate authorities. It identifies the user and can monitor their actions/grant them access, and can be very helpful for a server administrator. If it was used in private life I would fear that the extent of it's use would be over-reaching because of the allure of gaining more info on the user.

    As it seems right now, knowledge is power. The expert coders are the ones who are dictating the direction in which the internet takes. This means if you want to have a part in how the internet is regulated and expand your ability to utilize all functions of the global network and your computer you must learn to do it yourself.

  3. I'm definitely of the opinion that government or other officially regulated internet access is not something I want to experience. Our era may be "obsessed with leaving things alone" but I fear we're also obsessed with doing nothing about anything. Thus, if it came down to voting yay or nay on establishing an Internet regulatory body, even if a majority of citizens didn't want one, I wonder if enough people would make the effort to have their opinion heard. In concern to the issue of young children viewing inappropriate material on the Internet because there is not enough regulation, I feel this 'regulation' should be coming for the parents and/or teachers involved in the child's daily life, not from some unseen body of officials, government ordained or otherwise. I discovered things online that I probably shouldn't have known about quite so young, but I turned out fine. And I'm not saying 'hey parents, encourage your children to find online porn' or anything of that sort. I just think that regulation from the right people, the parents and family, the people who would care and/or have personal interest in what the child is doing online or accessing, is far more effective a coping mechanism than regulation that has so much potential to go out of hand/be abused. Also, having conversations with kids about this sort of thing or about adult material/issues is far more essential to the protection of minors than any official regulations. I think we're all too often content to say 'let someone else handle it.' I fear that it's that sort of attitude that could lead to future regulations on our online access and we may realize too late that the reality we've received isn't really the one we wanted.