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Existing legal domains (Box 3.1) offer a rich heritage. The fundamental rights contained in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are a good beginning. Included are the copyright and patent systems, prohibitions against denial of human rights without due process, the right of free speech and assembly, immunity from unreasonable search and seizure, and protection against self-incrimination. A long history of Supreme Court decisions finds that the Constitution contains an implied right of privacy, although the boundaries of this right are subject to considerable debate. The Constitution is especially important in protecting the rights of minorities against the majority rule.
Common law tends to develop slowly and deliberately, based on common sense and logic and the customary expectations of the community. It is conservative, stable, and, some fear, too rigid, but it does provide a workable framework for analysis, even though the frame does not always fit exactly. Thus, despite rapid technological change, electronic networks do not constitute a lawless frontier in which individuals may do anything they please.
The long history of common law complements the basic constitutional foundations by providing alternative strategies for protecting property interests and obtaining redress for grievances for damage occasioned by negligence or willful disregard of harmful consequences that might ensue. In other words, the law expects human beings to behave in a somewhat rational and respectful manner in their dealings with each other and with regard to their proprietary interests. Case histories in property law, tort law, and equity provide ample precedents to guide the behavior that might be expected to be reasonable in an electronic environment.
There are also numerous explicit statutes covering computer use and misuse (all but one state has enacted such a statute). Statutes also cover privacy but are usually specific to certain kinds of information, such as credit histories and medical data that are particularly sensitive. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 specifically forbids eavesdropping on data traffic. Lawyers and their clients also must be aware of the laws concerning commercial transactions, including antitrust provisions.
Several regulatory agencies have administrative jurisdiction over certain types of network activity. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has authority to license common carriers and is active in promulgating standards for high-definition television transmission and telephone network architecture; it also regulates cable television and certain uses of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Federal Trade