Legal systems in a network society is our paper that explores the evolution of legal systems as we move into the information age; more specifically the paper is focused on an analysis of how legal systems will need to evolve in the coming decades if they are to achieve alignment with the emerging next-generation internet.
Law is a very fundamental part of any society, indeed much of its origins derive from inherent features of the human condition and fundamental social dynamics that emerge out of social interaction. When humans interact they become interdependent within some combined organization as the actions of either party effects that of others and to achieve optimal outcomes recognized and accepted protocols of behavior are required. Legal systems can thus be defined as the system of rules or protocols that regulate and coordinate human organization; they formally mediate human relations so as to achieve the outcomes that are deemed socially acceptable.
The evolution of legal systems traces the history of social organization over thousands of years as we have attempted to find ever larger more objective systems for coordinating human activity through shared cultural systems, shared economic and political organization. For most of human history, people have lived in small communities, that were shaped by their own specific geography and beliefs, there was no share ideologies or political units beyond the very local community. For most of history, laws have only applied to a small group of people who were in power and was excluded from many others who they had power over; slavery being a good example of this. These formal legal systems were dependent upon some centralized institution to enforce it and that institution decided what was law and who was included or excluded from it with those excluded having virtually no recognizable rights. In the ancient world, laws were not universally applicable; if you were in with the right people you were safe if you weren’t you were not.
Over the long arch of history following the development of civilization around the world the basis for legal systems has gradually shifted from being based upon force to becoming based upon human reason, with a concomitant expansion of rights from the few to the many, as we have gone from small tribes to the modern nation-state where legal systems coordinates millions of peoples’ interactions within a common legal framework. Over the course of the current decades driven by major processes of change the networks society concept is going from a theory to a reality and driving major change and disruption in our systems of social organization. As a consequence of the proliferation of information technology, the expansion of social networking and globalization, once well-established patterns of political and legal organization are showing signs of failing in the face of a new level of socio-economic complexity.
Today the legal frameworks that regulate our world are based upon the nation-state or the super-national institutions that they have set-up and enforce. The global legal architecture that regulates our world forms a hierarchical structure from the national up to global level. The system is designed to be grounded in the concrete machinery that states have created to make, adjudicate and enforce laws. The question of how to expand our legal infrastructure to deliver an effective service to all on the planet is clearly still an open one. At the same time, we live in an age of huge technological transformation as we move from the Industrial Age to the network society. The world is changing and this change should be seen as an opportunity to rethink the paradigm; to embrace the new technological possibilities so as to take the development of our global legal architecture to a new level.
The network society shifts the locus of organization from centralized systems out to the individual and the networks that connect them. The model then shifts from trying to concentrate everything in the center and batch processing to instead setting up networks for people to create their own systems of coordination. The legal system of tomorrow will not be like the one size fits all centralized model of yesterday it will be a more user-centered system, where people create their own rules and negotiate them dynamically and directly within peer networks.