Jack L. Goldsmith
The Supreme Court's partial invalidation of the Communications Decency Act on First Amendment grounds 1 raises the more fundamental question of whether the state can regulate cyberspace at all. 2 Several commentators, whom I shall call “regulation skeptics,” have argued that it cannot. 3 Some courts have also expressed skepticism. 4 The popular and technical press are full of similar claims. 5
The regulation skeptics make both descriptive and normative claims. On the descriptive side, they claim that the application of geographically based conceptions of legal regulation and choice of law to a-geographical cyberspace activity either makes no sense or leads to hopeless confusion. On the normative side, they argue that because cyberspace transactions occur “simultaneously and equally” in all national jurisdictions, regulation of the flow of this information by any particular national jurisdiction illegitimately produces significant negative spillover effects in other jurisdictions. They also claim that the architecture of cyberspace precludes notice of governing law that is crucial to the law's legitimacy. In contrast, they argue, cyberspace participants are much better positioned than national regulators to design comprehensive legal rules that would both internalize the costs of cyberspace activity and give proper notice to cyberspace participants. The regulation skeptics conclude from these arguments that national regulators should “defer to the self-regulatory efforts of Cyberspace participants.” 6
This chapter challenges the skeptics' arguments and their conclusion. The skeptics make three basic errors. First, they overstate the differences between cyberspace transactions and other transnational transactions. Both involve people in real space in one territorial jurisdiction transacting with people in real space in another territorial jurisdiction in a way that sometimes causes real-world harms. In both contexts, the state in which the harms are suffered has a legitimate interest in regulating the activity that produces the harms.