The Knight First Amendment Institute defends the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Our aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.
The Knight First Amendment Institute was established in 2016 by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to safeguard free expression in the shifting landscape of the digital age. Our litigation, research, and public education programs focus on new manifestations of longstanding threats to freedom of speech and the press, and the many novel challenges arising from evolving technologies. The privatization of the public square, the expansion of the surveillance state, the steady creep of government secrecy, the demonization of the media by the nation’s most senior officials, the aggregation of massive amounts of personal data in the hands of private corporations, machine-amplified distortions of public discourse—these are just some of the challenges to the free expression system on which our democracy depends, and the kind of challenges we are working to understand and address. We seek, in all our work, to be a vibrant community, a generator of new ideas, and a leading defender of free expression rights in the courts.
Safeguarding the vitality and integrity of public discourse online. Conversations that once took place in parks, sidewalks, and public squares now take place largely online, and often on privately owned social media platforms. As a society, we are just beginning to grapple with the question of how the First Amendment and free speech principles should apply in these digital spaces. Our work seeks to illuminate the forces that are shaping public discourse online, and to ensure the inclusivity and integrity of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy.
Protecting the privacy vital to free thought and expression. Our laws restricting surveillance and data collection are struggling to keep pace with new technology that can track and reveal our expressive lives in ever more detail, and with new business models that rely on the aggregation and exploitation of this information. Our work is meant to illuminate the scope and impact of surveillance by government and private corporations, promote stronger legal protections for privacy, and enrich public understanding of the interplay between privacy and the freedoms of inquiry, speech, and association.
Ensuring access to information necessary for self-government. The First Amendment embraces the public’s right to access the information needed to hold the powerful accountable and participate fully in the process of self-government. Our aim in defending and promoting transparency is not simply to compel the disclosure of information that the public is entitled to know, but to broaden public access to information through changes in government policy and the law.
Frequently Asked Questions
Defending a Free Press in a Digital Age, by Lee C. Bollinger and Alberto Ibargüen, Time (May 17, 2016).