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Coding and the First Amendment

Americans have always viewed free speech as the idea that characterizes liberty.  When Americans feel that an injustice has occurred Americans make sure that the rest of the country knows about it.  It is as much a part of American’s sense of liberty as the constitution is.  The growth of the internet has provided a new landscape for free speech.  The concept of free speech changes when the audience does not actually know who the speaker is.  People can now express their opinion without anyone ever knowing their true identity.  The issue moving forward is how much, if at all, the internet should be regulated.  Some believe that there should be no regulation because free speech should always be protected.  Others believe regulation is necessary because of the anonymity of the internet and to protect people from hate speech.  People shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever they want without being held accountable.  Therefore, coding has become an extremely important topic.  It will shape how first amendment law will be practiced in regard to the content of the internet.

The current architecture of the internet is based on a set of protocols called TCP/IP.  Under these protocols the regulation of the internet is at a minimum.  However, coding allows for these protocols to change.  Originally, what made the internet so difficult to regulate was that everyone was anonymous.  However, new architectures can now require the user to admit certain things about themselves such as their age, their nationality, or their occupation.  Furthermore, the new architectures can rate the content of the internet such as categorizing material into pornography, hate speech, violent speech, or political speech.  Between these two new architectures the unregulability of the internet is being flipped on its head.  While preventing hate speech is ideal, it must be done the correct way to avoid impeding on the internet users first amendment rights.  If the new coding simply prevents all types of derogatory speech then it could potentially prevent speech that would be legal under the first amendment.

The issue moving forward is not whether there should be total regulation or no regulation.  The issue moving forward is how much regulation should there be.  People are the ones writing the code.  People are able to make the decisions deciding what should be allowable and what shouldn’t be allowed.  The values of the people will be reflected in the code.  The internet will work best without the meddling of the government.  The more the government gets involved the more likely it will become heavily regulated.  Heavier regulation means a decrease in the people’s free speech which is detrimental to society.  Therefore, it is best to leave the regulation of the internet in the hands of the people (coders).  However, just as the people would challenge the laws of Congress, the people must challenge the laws of coding.  It is important to never become complacent when the right that our country was founded upon is subject is being regulated.


Jim Barbiere