East Coast Code and West Coast Code

In 1999, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig stated that software is a kind of law. The algorithms of tech giants have an influence comparable to, and maybe in some ways greater than, statutory law.

The code is law. … Activists concerned with defending liberty, privacy or access must watch the code coming from the Valley—call it West Coast Code—as much as the code coming from Congress—call it East Coast Code.

I imagine more people would agree with him now than did when he said this a couple decades ago.

If you can call statutory law “code” then you could also call algorithms “law” and speak of East Coast Law and West Coast Law.

Source: The Architecture of Privacy

Related: Data privacy consulting

3 thoughts on “East Coast Code and West Coast Code

  1. I used to think law was like computer programming, but gradually became aware there was something deeply awry with that picture. Eventually I figured out that law is fundamentally different because it’s written for interpretation by humans to help humans live together. Algorithmic law is damaging to humans. Unfortunately, not only does the west-coast stuff do damage of that sort, but so does a lot of the east-coast stuff.

  2. I too thought something was deeply awry and then I realized that Lessig’s observation rests on so many equivocations that I can’t agree with it even in 2018. His argument falls apart or becomes facile if you put scare quotes around all the fudged concepts in the post; “influence”, “law”, “code”, “algorithm”, “professor”, “comparable”, etc.

  3. I made the converse analogy the other day. Statutory law is software. Law has bugs, you patch it to deal with your needs, and you should refactor it when it doesn’t describe the world you live in very well.

Comments are closed.