Programmers as Legislators: Exploring Code as Law

Technology and Governance

The interconnected and globalized nature of the Internet has challenged traditional norms concerning the application of domestic laws within the realm of cyberspace.  While in the real space, geographic borders create a clear delineation between different jurisdictions and the authority of national governments, the internet has emerged as a borderless space where different states are competing to apply their domestic laws to virtual users. 

The early internet represented an opportunity to construct a sphere where freedom and individual liberties were preserved while contained within an environment in which the framework could be altered to address conflicts.  As a network of networks, which shared an open architecture and could be accessible by anyone, the Internet represented a break from the normative rules of physical society.  The Internet of the 1980’s and 1990’s was often devoid of government interference, creating a type of anarchy where user’s themselves were left with the task of regulating one another.  Resolving conflicts and respecting individual rights were among the challenges facing early adopters of the internet. In real space, these challenges are overcome by “laws and regulations, through constitutions, statutes, and other legal codes” (Code, 5).  However, in cyber space, a different type of regulator is available: code.

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Whereas, in the real space, laws and regulations can only deter behavior through punitive actions or resolve disputes after the fact, the architecture of the Internet can be constructed through code to eliminate conflicts and prohibit certain behavior’s.  The ability of developers to manipulate the environment of cyberspace to regulate behavior and conflicts is often exemplified through Massively Multiple Online Games (MMOGs).  As noted in Code, in the game second life, a conflict arose when one player’s dog died from consuming a neighbor’s poisonous plant pedals, which they had grown with the intention of selling.  Instead of prohibiting the growth of poisonous plants, the game’s developer’s coded in a fix, which only activated the “poison” when they were sold to another user.  The change in code also created protections from theft.   Through code, “instead of making one of them change his or her behavior, developer’s can alter the laws of nature to eliminate the conflict altogether” (Code, 14).  The ability of code to regulate cyberspace, represents a new era of governance and regulation.


Lessig, Lawrence. Code. Basic Books, 2006.

About the Author

Matthew Zuccaro is currently the CEO of Digital Strategy Associates LLC, where he developed a boutique web design firm into a multi-faceted provider of IT and digital marketing solutions. A highly driven entrepreneur, Matt founded his first business while in high school and used the proceeds to self-finance his college tuition. As a seasoned IT professional, Matt has extensive experience in supporting Apple, Cisco, and Windows. A graduate of Montclair State University, Matt holds a BA (Summa Cum Laude) in History and Political Science. Outside of the office, Matt is passionate about traveling as well as volunteering within his local community.

About Digital Strategy Associates LLC

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