Old School/New School Speech Regulation

Jack M. Balkin

Yale University - Law School

May 6, 2014

Harvard Law Review, Forthcoming
Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 491

In the early twenty-first century the digital infrastructure of communication has also become a central instrument for speech regulation and surveillance. The same forces that have democratized and decentralized information production have also generated new techniques for surveillance and control of expression.

“Old-school” speech regulation has traditionally relied on criminal penalties, civil damages, and injunctions directed at individual speakers and publishers to control and discipline speech. These methods have hardly disappeared in the twenty-first century. But now they are joined by “new-school” techniques, which aim at digital networks and auxiliary services like search engines, payment systems, and advertisers. For example, states may engage in collateral censorship by threatening Internet intermediaries with liability to induce them to block, limit, or censor speech by other private parties.

Public/private cooperation and co-optation is often crucial to new-school techniques. Because the government often does not own the infrastructure of free expression, it must rely on private owners to assist in speech regulation and surveillance. Governments may use a combination of carrots and sticks, including offers of legal immunity in exchange for cooperation. States may also employ the “soft power” of government influence. Owners of private infrastructure, hoping to reduce legal uncertainty and to ensure an uncomplicated business environment, often have incentives to be helpful even without direct government threats.

Finally, governments have also devised new forms of digital prior restraint. Many new-school techniques have effects similar to prior restraints, even though they may not involve traditional licensing schemes or judicial injunctions. Prior restraints are especially important to the expansion of government surveillance practices in the expanding National Surveillance State. Gag orders directed at owners of private infrastructure are now ubiquitous in the United States; they have become fully normalized and bureaucratized elements of digital surveillance, as routine as they are invisible, and largely isolated from traditional first amendment protections.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: freedom of speech, First Amendment, censorship, Internet, intermediaries, regulation, collateral censorship, surveillance

JEL Classification: K10

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Date posted: January 12, 2014 ; Last revised: May 11, 2014

Suggested Citation

Balkin, Jack M., Old School/New School Speech Regulation (May 6, 2014). Harvard Law Review, Forthcoming; Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 491. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2377526

Contact Information

Jack M. Balkin (Contact Author)
Yale University - Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1620 (Phone)
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