Lex Reformatica: Five Principles of Policy Reform for the Technological Age
22 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2022
Date Written: November 1, 2022
Almost twenty five years ago, beloved former colleague Joel Reidenberg penned an article that argued that law and government regulation were not the only source of authority and rulemaking in the Information Society. Rather, he argued that technology itself, particularly system design choices like network design and system configurations, can also impose similar regulatory norms on communities. These rules and systems, he argued, comprised a Lex Informatica—a term that Reidenberg coined in historical reference to “Lex Mercatoria,” a system of international, merchant-driven norms in the Middle Ages that emerged independent of localized sovereign control.
Today, however, we confront a different phenomenon, one that requires us to draw upon the wisdom of Reidenberg’s landmark work in considering the repercussions of the previous era. As much as Lex Informatica provided us with a descriptive lens to analyze the birth of the internet, we are now confronted with the aftereffects of decades of muted, if not absent, regulation. When technological social norms are allowed to develop outside of clear legal restraints, who wins? Who loses? In this new era, we face a new set of challenges—challenges that force us to confront a critical need for infrastructural reform that focuses on the interplay between public and private forms of regulation (and self-regulation), its costs, and its benefits.
Instead of demonstrating the richness, complexity, and promise of yesterday’s internet age, today’s events show us what precisely can happen in an age of information libertarianism, underscoring the need for a new approach to information regulation. The articles in this Issue are taken from two separate symposiums—one on Lex Informatica and another on race and technology law. At present, a conversation between them could not be any more necessary. Taken together, these papers showcase what I refer to as the Lex Reformatica of today’s digital age. This collection of papers demonstrates the need for scholars, lawyers, and legislators to return to Reidenberg’s foundational work and to update its trajectory towards a new era that focuses on the design of a new approach to reform.
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