Internet & Society:

Civil Liberties in Cyberspace

Prof. Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law School, and
John Palfrey, Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at HLS
Tuesdays, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
at the Faculty Dining Room, IOP.
zittrain at; jpalfrey at

Syllabus/Calendar | Discussion | Suggested Readings

Please note: The session scheduled for April 22nd has been moved to April 21st.

The growth of the Internet has challenged our understanding of the basic civil liberties of citizens in the United States and elsewhere around the world. This study group will focus on the hard questions that stem from this challenge. Our right to free speech and our right to privacy stem in general terms from the United States Constitution. Those rights have been interpreted and given life by hundreds of years of heated arguments in the academy, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. These rights have been balanced against other interests, such as copyrights, protection from libel and law enforcement. The balance has changed over time, to be sure, but the changes have been more or less incremental.

The Internet has threatened to upset this balance dramatically. The advent of super-fast computing, high-bandwidth Net access, huge data warehouses, anonymous online speech, ubiquity of e-mail and other Internet-based communications, and the advance of tools to track these communications has tested our basic assumptions about these rights. And the specter of terrorists using Internet technologies to carry out their gruesome work has prompted increasingly stringent laws and regulations that have a big impact on the balance between civil liberties and law enforcement. The Internet – and what it has wrought – has prompted a hard new look at our civil liberties.

This study group will explore civil liberties in the Internet context, as well as key themes that bear on these issues, such as the raging debate over intellectual property protections for digital media. The style of the study group will be fast-paced, interactive, and will almost certainly not take precisely the shape that any of us expect at the outset. No previous knowledge of Internet technologies, Constitutional law or the like is required to take part in the study group.

The online discussion group and readings linked from this site are *completely optional* and are provided for those of you who may wish to engage more deeply with the materials. We will presume that those attending the study group have not participated in the online discussion nor done any of the optional readings.


Syllabus/Calendar | Discussion | Readings