Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Code 2.0

Lawrence Lessig, noted Stanford Law Professor, and founding member of the Creative Commons, has long been talking about the nature of digital freedom. His book, Code 2.0 is a rework of 1999 book on digital freedom, but with a twist. The website for the book is a wiki where Lessig worked for 18 months with people online beginning with the 1999 text and updating it for the 2006 market.

The book is written in four parts, discussing what it means to be regulated, how that can be (and is) accomplished in the digital era, as well as the problems we are having balancing historical values against the realities of modern technology.

Lessig is not only a lawyer, but a professor of law, so the book is, at times, somewhat text-bookish. However, Lessig's target is clearly not those trained in Law. While I believe someone formally trained in Law would enjoy the book and learn from it (and the sheer volume of footnotes are of interest to those types), the book is easily understood by most anyone.

For me, the most interest part of the book was the part on latent ambiguities, these parts of law (Constitutional or otherwise) where there are serious questions between the letter and the spirit of the law.

For instance, the issue of privacy in public. In the world of 1791, when the Constitution was being ratified, the fact that anything done in public was not generally considered to be private was fine. In this, I'm talking about if someone wanted to follow you from one place to another, or if you were having a conversation on the street. Neither of these things have ever been illegal.

However, today we live in a world where camera's are cheap, and software methods of identifying faces are available. The city of London has hundreds of Closed Circuit TV cameras, and their planning to expand the program. American cities are considering similar projects. The problem is that, in 1791 universal surveillance of all people whenever they were out of their homes wasn't a pipe dream, it was an impossibility. Incomprehensible that such a world could exist.

But today, that world can exist. Should the law continue as it is, and allow such surveillance, because it's always technically been allowed? Or should the law be changed in such a way to protect the implied freedom from surveillance that existed due to the high cost of surveilling everyone.

Lessig does a good job of presenting both sides of a lot of arguments such as these, though his personal feelings tend to show through. I suppose the fact that I tend to agree with Professor Lessig on technology, Privacy, and Copyright issues, I was inclined to like this book considerably more than some.

Lessig is passionate about these sorts of issues. It shows, and that makes the book that much more enthralling. It's worth reading through the dry bits, as I feel the issues discussed here are easily some of the most important issues facing us today. Code 2.0 serves as a fantastic introduction to these issues, and a good analysis of some potential solutions.