Author Archives: Karyna Pryiomka

Code is Law or the Legal System of the Internet

Throughout this whole academic year, we have been talking about technology, its uses, its abuses, the power differentials it promotes or conceals, the possibilities it affords and the dangers it belies. We have been lifted up high by utopian accounts just to be brought back down by more cynical ones. What all them, however, have in common is the notion that technology, particularly the Internet, is a somewhat special place, alternative reality if you will, where new rules, new identities, new collaborations, new societies, and new possibilities can arise, often times in contradiction to the established order offline.

Zittrain’s book is no exception. I did leave me with the feeling that Internet is that other world, in which things do and can happen. At the same time, his account posed some very interesting questions regarding the legal system of that world.

Referring to Lessig and Reidenberg, Zittrain stated that “code could be law.” In fact, it might as well be. A careful observer can very quickly conclude that all of our online interactions are subject to the algorithms written by the creators of whatever software we use. In a sense, we are not free to act as we please. Unless… we know how to code… At the same time, there are people and structures invested in impeding our ability to code freely… they assert their own power and control. Consequently, it begins to look like, programers are the lawmakers of the Internet.

With this in mind, we can speculate that code is law in at least two different ways: 1) code is the law of online social conduct. It dictates the order of our operations to an particular extent. 2) Code is law in a legal way. It tracks our moves and delivers data to appropriate parties, enforcing the legal system of the offline world within its online counterpart. This status of code as law is further reinforced by the massive adaptation of software control over human lives. And IBM’s Smart Cities is a great example of that movement.

As I read this week’s material, I began to think about the following: to what extent traditional legal concepts, such as freedom of speech, reasonable privacy expectations, etc. apply to online interactions and how do we begin to think about them in a way that is both safe and productive? Do the reasonable expectation of privacy in my home and expectation of privacy online mean the same things? Does being in my home connected to a computer and engaged in a public forum change the way my privacy is defined at the moment? Can trespassing happen online or does it require physical presence? Is stalking online equally illegal and dangerous than stalking offline?

So I guess my big question to you is Does the future of the internet holds in it the re-imagining of our rights, laws, and the way our legal system is structured and if yes, who are the lawmakers?

Collaboration: Friend or Foe… Well it depends

A detailed and nuanced argument presented by Collaborative Futures illuminates the complex nature of collaboration as a process. And while I do, at heart, share these, and other, authors’ utopian idea of collaboration as an answer, or at least a step toward, a salvation of many social issues, I remain unsure about what do we really mean by collaboration and whether its positive effects are sustainable and always beneficial. Collaboration can take many forms and shapes, but it always requires a group of people. Any group of people, in turn, is susceptible to group processes such as group-think, othering, and diffusion of responsibility, to name a few. These can lead to dismissal of alternative opinions, uncritical evaluation of one’s own work, and privileging one’s point of view, particularly when collaborative groups form on the basis of “shared political perspective rather than interdependence through need,” which CAE conversely argues to be preferred. Two collaborative groups, regardless of how democratizing their respective infrastructures are, might be at conflict.

In fact, I wonder whether we would be as excited about collaborations if they did not have “our” best interests at heart. Would a collaboration among a group of corporate executives geared toward limiting  a supply of a particular resource to rise up the prices be considered a collaboration? Would a group of young professionals working under the collaboration criteria provided by Collaborative Futures but on a for-profit project be considered a collaboration? Or would we call it business? Is collaboration a business? Can or should it be?

To use an archaic definition of business as meaningful activity, any collaboration, I hope, is a business . But in today’s discourse it appears that word collaboration is being used as a juxtaposition to words like business, neoliberalism, and capitalism, to name a few. But is it really? Or is it all just rhetoric?