Was I Speaking to You?: Purely Functional Source Code as Noncovered Speech

Mark C. Bennett

This Note asks whether computer source code, when developed as a means to an end—as distinct from source code intended for third-party review—is covered speech under the First Amendment. I argue it is not. My argument has two parts. First, I describe case law treating First Amendment challenges to regulations of source code to demonstrate courts’ failure to address the status of purely functional source code. Second, I describe how courts should address such a question, by referencing an array of theories used to explain the scope of the First Amendment. I conclude no theory alone or in combination with others justifies the constitutional coverage of purely functional source code. I thereby undermine a key constitutional argument by technology manufacturers contesting, in the context of criminal investigations, the government-compelled creation of software to circumvent encryption technologies. 

This article appears in the November 2017 Issue: Volume 92, Number 5