in Workshop
Time Wednesday, 02:00PM - 04:00PM
Room Workshop Room 1
Chair Alexander Trechsel
Moderator Steffen Hindelang
Speaker Steffen Hindelang
Respondent Urs Gasser

Internet Legislation and Regulation through the Eyes of Constitution

If it is true that territorial coercive governmental force remains the hallmark of governance in the internet age then it should be the territorial constitution that directs but also restrains this force. While already considerable thought has been devoted to the issue of how the reading of certain fundamental rights and constitutional principles and the understanding of their underlying values contained in territorial constitutions might have changed due to the emergence of the internet technology and possible resulting changes in social behavior, this study chooses a different, in respect of the internet so far not sufficiently explored avenue.

At the heart of this study lies the question of what internet-related legislation and regulation do to constitutions. More precisely, this study wants to look at whether, where and how fundamental rights and constitutional principles (“constitutional issue areas”) have been limited or bolstered by internet-related legislation and regulation (“internet-related norms”).

A constitution does not only form governmental legislation and regulation, but governmental legislation and regulation also significantly shape the understanding of principles and beliefs underlying the constitutional issue areas and, in the end, will also alter the reading of the constitutional issue areas itself. This having said it becomes reasonably clear that it is only by identifying such internet-related norms which are able to shape our reading of constitutional issue areas that a society is put in the position to thoroughly discuss underlying principles and beliefs before legislation or regulation tacitly transform, first, our understanding of principles and beliefs and, later on, the reading of the constitutional issue areas.

However, this study does not (yet) want to trace how, for example, the incremental expansion of data retention legislation is altering our understanding of the normative constitutional concept of the right to privacy. The primary purpose of this study is a somewhat more modest one: it wants to enable holding this debate by better understanding where, to which extent and in which way internet-related legislation and regulation restrict or bolster constitutional issue areas. This “enabling to debate” shall, though, not be confined to the boundaries of a specific jurisdiction but this debate shall ideally extend across different legal systems allowing for cross-reference and cross-fertilization. In order to achieve this end this study resorts to a comparative approach, categorizing internet-related norms from various jurisdictions into selected constitutional issue areas.

Top 5 Research Questions

We have identified a number of research questions on this topic. Here are the top 5:


  • Which constitutional issue areas are more and which areas are less frequently affected by internet-related norm setting?
  • Which regulatory approach is chosen to shape a certain constitutional issue area? Can patterns and/or fractions be identified?
  • Do, and if answered in the affirmative, in which way and why do different internet-related norms referring to like situations, correlate or differ in terms of their regulatory approaches and, hence, in respect of their restricting or bolstering effect on a constitutional issue area?
  • Which degree of convergence and/or divergence in terms of balancing different constitutional issue areas in situations referring to comparable "constitutional situations", i.e. norms relating to the regulation of different real word phenomena but touching upon the same constitutionally protected interests, can be identified?
  • Do, and if answered in the affirmative, where, what kind, to what extent, and why do decentralized internet-related legislation and regulation originating from different jurisdictions display common denominators and/or also fractions in terms of limiting or bolstering effects on constitutional issue areas? In particular, is it possible to identify divergence or convergence of regulatory approaches within a constitutional issue area across different jurisdictions and what are the driving forces behind possible patterns?
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