IMS 221 Information Policy Fall 1999

Peter 642-1087.
Class meetings:Friday 10-12, 107 South Hall
Office hours: Tuesday 12-2, Friday 1-3 Room 303A South Hall

The idea of an information policy seems modern, yet the Constitution defines the principles that still guide the politics of innovation in America. The Constitution contains the word information: "[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union." It defines a principle of innovation to guide the ownership and distribution of knowledge and inventions: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." And, of course, the 1st Amendment links information access to democracy: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And perhaps of equal, if less obvious importance, the commerce clause -- "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes" -- since information has always been embedded within commodities that are transported on infrastructures.

As heirs to the Enlightenment, the founders were well aware of the links between technology and politics, but could not have foreseen the technologies that have emerged over the past two centuries. Thus American history provides a long dialogue between technology and policy, beginning with the establishment of the U.S. Post Office (subsidized newspaper delivery, postal road infrastructure); railroads; telegraph; telephone infrastructures and regulated monopolies; the first new media, radio and television; and now digital networks and information. Each has provided a model for governing the next, but an important part of the innovation process is the discovery that new technologies require new concepts and rules. Is this because each technology has unique characteristics, or because each changes the social context of politics, or both? In asking this, however, we must not assume that technology causes social and political change in some simple way, for one of the lessons of history is that political choice also shapes the development of new technology.

This syllabus investigates the following questions that underlie information policy today:

The readings link current information policy problems to research on the social impact of digital information. The major themes and issues are:

Required books:

Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom

Reader for IMS 221, Copy Central (available August 31). The reader contains most required readings; copies of a few readings from .com addresses must be downloaded the Web for individual educational use.

Assignments and Course Requirements:

1. Class participation. Information Policy is designed as a seminar, thus participation in class discussions is essential. Student(s) should lead class discussions on specific themes from the syllabus, hopefully tied to your research paper theme. (20%)

2. Class papers. Two analytic papers (<10 pages) are required (around the end of September and the end of October), investigating a policy issue or theme from the syllabus in more depth. Assigned topics will be handed out, but students may propose alternatives. (40%)

3. A research paper (~20 pages) investigating an information policy problem or concept is due by December 10, 1999. Topic proposals should be submitted by mid-November. (40%)


Information Policy Syllabus

  1. What political principles govern U.S. information policy? (August 27)
  2. Required reading:

  3. Is digital information like speech? Information and Democracy (Sept. 3)
  4. Required reading:

  5. Is digital information like speech? Case study on the CDA. (September 10)
  6. Required readings:

  7. Should digital documents be governed like print? (Sept. 17)
  8. Required reading:

  9. Should digital documents be governed like print? Case studies of the DMCA and UCC2B. (September 24)
  10. Required reading.

  11. Should digital documents be governed like print? Will digital documents change politics? (October 1)
  12. Required Reading:

    First paper due on digital information as speech and/or print about now
  13. The information superhighway: what is "infrastructure"? (October 8)
  14. Required reading:

  15. The information superhighway: Can the "e-rate" solve "the digital divide"? (October 15)
  16. Required readings:

  17. Information as signal: information flows? (October 22)
  18. Required reading:

  19. Information as Signal: Regulating global information flows (October 29)
  20. Required reading:

    Second paper on conceptualizing information as infrastructure and/or signal due now.

  21. Information flows: case study on privacy policy (November 5)
  22. Required reading:

  23. How can nation states govern global institutions like the Net? (November 12)
  24. Required reading:

  25. Innovation Policy or Information Policy? (November 19)
  26. Required reading:

  27. What problems do old policy metaphors help us solve? What new policy metaphors will we need to create to solve new political problems? (December 3).
  28. Final Research Paper due December 10, 1999.