Essays & conversations about constitutional moments on the Net collected by the Berkman Center.

A Singular Constitutional Moment

Since the early frontier days of the Internet, the question of how the medium should be controlled and by whom, has been hotly debated. Yet the governance questions that characterized the early 1990s—“How will baseline rules of conduct that facilitate reliable communications and trustworthy commerce be established? Who will define, punish and prevent wrongful actions that trash the electronic commons or impose harm unjustifiably on others?”—predicted a decisive constitutional moment that never arose. While Post and others argued that a controlling body would emerge as a powerful “governing entity with ultimate authority over this…global resource”, we realized later that net rules would instead evolve organically, through many different actors across time and place.

Ten years later, those prescient questions remain, while daily decisions taken by diverse parties around the world are determining what sort of Internet we will have. By engaging in these debates now, we can still impact the outcomes: “(w)e are entering a time when our power to muck about with these structures that regulate is at an all-time high. It is imperative, then, that we understand just what to do with this power. And more important, what not to do.”

The Publius platform will bring these issues to the public in meaningful and relevant ways, all the while asking how traditional understandings of regulation, control and governance are manifest and constructed anew in cyberspace. Working from the premise that there are constitution-making moments occurring in quiet corners of the net all the time, we are asking the denizens of this space (and some outside of it) to describe the most significant of these moments, and what they are likely to be in the future. While the rapid pace of technological, business, and policy change may suggest that such moments are evanescent, we believe that the collection of these essays will shine light on the still-fresh online constitutional issues, particularly those related to control, human rights, identity, property, community, and democracy, that will engage us long into the future.