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The Paul Revere Of The Web

Harvard's Lessig warns of threats to speech and innovation

Lawrence Lessig seemed destined to be a darling of the conservatives. In 1980, the kid from Williamsport, Pa., was a rising GOP star, tapped to manage a crucial state Senate campaign when he was just a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. In spite of the Reagan sweep, however, Lessig's candidate lost, and he steered away from what had seemed like a budding political career. "I was saved by losing that first campaign," Lessig jokes now. "If I had won, I'd have been Ralph Reed."

Instead, the 38-year-old Harvard University law professor is fast emerging as the nation's most original thinker in the new field of cyberlaw. And he's now a self-described liberal. In a new book, Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lessig argues that courts and legislatures must stop companies and governments from violating privacy, free speech, and open markets on the Internet. He worries that government will snoop on citizens. And he fears that companies like software maker Microsoft Corp. are rigging Web technology to stifle competition. His solution: Basic rules for the use of technology that keep the Web free and fair. "If the architecture is correct, there's less need for government to intervene to protect values or to perfect competition," he says.