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Welcome to The Digital Constitutionalist

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Historically speaking, constitutionalism is a relatively new concept. It is such an extraordinary political achievement—one we hold so dear—that we tend to forget about how radical it is as a concept. For centuries, the world lived without any need for principles such as the separation of powers or the rule of law. It was not until some few dared to state the unthinkable—that power should be submitted to the law—that things really changed. Constitutionalism carried a powerful message: that no power was above the law.

Constitutionalism evolved during the 20th century and grew in maturity and complexity. From positivist thinking to rights-based approaches, it saw the limits of its own design. However, one thing remained unchanged throughout this evolution. We always assumed that the power to be limited was always public power. It was the State, ministries or agencies that we should fear. It made sense from a psychological point of view. It had been precisely there that the abuses had emerged; it was hence expectable to continue to be so. 

Public power is not the only core concern for constitutionalism any longer. The 20th century has seen the rise of international organisations, transnational corporations, and non-governmental organisations, which have increasingly blurred the line between global and local, public and private, freedom and power.

Digital technologies are an essential part of this transformation. As they grow ever more integrated into social infrastructures, the critical assumptions behind modern constitutionalism are increasingly under pressure. On the one hand, technologies have triggered positive effects on the entire society since they increase the capacity of individuals to exercise rights and freedoms and lead to economic growth. On the other hand, they have also led to challenges to protecting the same rights. Moreover, the same liberal narratives that uphold classic constitutionalism—driven by the promises of technology as an enabler of democracy— have largely led to the consolidation of private power.

Hence, as we think about the future of constitutionalism in the digital age, the question remains: how will constitutionalism welcome the digital age? Are we ready to welcome a new phase of constitutionalism?

The Digital Constitutionalist (Digi-Con) provides a space for an open discussion about such a transformation of constitutionalism. It discusses rising constitutional issues related to the digitalisation of society. It is believed that the challenges and opportunities for constitutionalism cannot be separated from the digital and algorithmic society. How we organise and limit power, or how we protect fundamental rights, are inherently constitutional questions. They do not depend on public or private power. They are intrinsically linked to our commitment to limiting power through norms. Digitalisation will blur all of those categories and make us rethink the boundaries of constitutionalism.

To address this question in a systematic manner, Digi-Con welcomes posts into four categories. 

The first category, Digital Rights, addresses how digital technologies impact the fundamental rights of digital users by creating both risks and opportunities to their existence. Here we welcome pieces that think about digital rights in a broader sense as tools to check both private and public power. Posts in this category will examine these and other dimensions of the creation and enforcement of fundamental rights in digital societies, providing systematic perspectives on issues of digitalisation and fundamental rights. 

The second category, Platform Governance, examines how constitutionalism might serve as a framework to discuss the internal governance of digital companies. Contributions in this category discuss the way Terms and Conditions might shape power relations between users and platforms and how digital constitutionalism might provide an analytical tool to guide such impact. Since private actors, notably the Big Tech companies, play an essential role in shaping digital infrastructure and public spaces, any discussion of digital governance must also examine the power exercised by them. Consequently, this category welcomes all contributions that deploy constitutionalism as a framework to understand and govern the exercise of power in the digital public sphere.

The third category, The Digital State, discusses the impact of digitalisation on public power. Governments, agencies, and other public bodies are still substantial—in many cases, the primary—centres of power, which seek to shape technological development through various policy instruments, such as national AI strategies and legal regulation. At the same time, states incorporate digital technologies into their own activities in tasks as diverse as providing digital access to public services and leveraging artificial intelligence to automate public policy execution. Accordingly, this section provides a space to examine the constitutional implications of digital technologies to administrative, legislative, and judicial structures.

Finally, the Sci-Fi section proposes that art and literature can offer us novel perspectives on digital constitutionalist issues, helping to expand our imagination. In its varied forms, sci-fi is not purely escapist entertainment: it also has practical impacts, both as a source of inspiration for those seeking to develop technology and as a tool for exploring the social implications of emerging technologies. This section welcomes essays that examine works of science fiction from a digital constitutionalist perspective, as well as original works of art that deal with the constitutional challenges and regulatory opportunities of digitalisation.

Digi-Con is edited by researchers hailing from various countries. This space is not just a collective effort between the five of us: instead, we want to create a space for discussions on the wide range of themes connected with the digital sphere. To ensure a diversity of viewpoints and themes, we will welcome contributors who bring new perspectives and issues to the table from different fields. Furthermore, we offer our space and editorial work to writers who want to join the discussion. If you think you would like to contribute to The Digital Constitutionalist, please see the instructions for submitting general posts and posts for the sci-fi section. In case of any questions, feel free to contact us at digitalconstitutionalist@gmail.com, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

The Digi-Con team,

Francisco de Abreu Duarte
Francesca Palmiotto
Marco Almada
Yeliz Döker
Giovanni de Gregorio

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