Cybersecurity & Tech Surveillance & Privacy

The Digital Social Contract: A New Lawfare Paper Series

Alan Z. Rozenshtein, Benjamin Wittes
Monday, December 7, 2020, 1:00 PM

Exploring the future of law, technology and government.

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We are thrilled to announce the launch of a new Lawfare paper series, entitled “The Digital Social Contract.”

Technology has always played a central role in Lawfare’s core focus: the interaction between law and national security. But whereas the government once played the dominant role in driving, or at least managing, technological change, today the government increasingly finds itself trying to catch up with changes it has little control over. Some of these changes—like the rise of cryptocurrencies or machine learning—are driven by researchers around the world. Others—like the dominance of a handful of communications platforms—are the result of the centralization of the technology industry. Whatever the cause, the result is to destabilize the long-standing social contract: that society’s course would be decided primarily by the people acting through the democratic process. By contrast, today’s digital social contract is far more complex, in terms of both the new technologies it must incorporate and the diversity of actors that drive it and are party to it.

Lawfare will continue, as it has long done, to explore these themes through its normal posts. But because many of the issues would benefit from longer-form exploration, Lawfare is also commissioning leading scholars and researchers to write research papers on various topics within the broader scope of the “digital social contract.” Each paper will be accompanied by a podcast interview with the author. 

This project is made possible by generous support from Facebook. Facebook has played no role in the selection of the specific topics or authors and has played no editorial role in the individual papers.

The series's initial offering is a paper by Kyle Langvardt entitled “Platform Speech Governance and the First Amendment: A User-Centered Approach.” We will tomorrow release the associated podcast, which includes a brief discussion between the two of us about the larger project and the papers to come.

Alan Z. Rozenshtein is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, a senior editor at Lawfare, and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he served as an Attorney Advisor with the Office of Law and Policy in the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland.
Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

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