DOJ unveils Trump administration laws reforming tech authorized legal responsibility safety


The Justice Department on Wednesday proposed a bill to reform a key legal liability protector for the tech industry known as Section 230.

The draft law focuses on two reform areas. The first is to narrow down the criteria that online platforms must meet in order to receive the liability protection granted in Section 230. Second, the immunity of the law in certain cases such as B. Offenses related to child sexual abuse, repealed.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms from liability for the contributions of their users, but it also allows them to moderate and remove harmful content without being penalized.

Protecting the law has helped tech platforms grow since the dawn of the internet, but has been under scrutiny in recent years as lawmakers and regulators more broadly question the power of the tech industry.

Several lawmakers have proposed reforms to Section 230 in recent months, and President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May targeting the law, claiming to crack down on alleged "censorship" by technology platforms. Trump introduced the order soon after Twitter first hit fact-checking labels on its tweets.

Representatives from Twitter, Google and Facebook were not immediately available to comment on the DOJ's proposal, which would have to be passed by Congress.

The Justice Department has been dealing with Section 230 for almost a year. Attorney General William Barr said at a conference in December 2019 that the Department was "critically" considering Section 230. Two months later, experts attended to discuss the merits of the law and how it could be reformed.

The reforms proposed by the DOJ reflect some laws that have already been put in place by lawmakers. For example, the standard tech companies must follow to remove content deemed "obscene, indecent, lascivious, filthy, overly violent" from a subjective to an "objectively sane belief". A bill tabled earlier this month by three powerful Republicans contains the same standard and similarly restricts the types of content platforms could be protected for removal, such as: B. Content that promotes self-harm or terrorism.

The proposal also includes a spin-off of Bad Samaritan, which specifically denies immunity to platforms that deliberately fail to take action on content that violates federal criminal law. Under the proposal, platforms could be held liable if they fail to quickly remove or suppress posts that would violate federal criminal law, or if they fail to report illegal material to law enforcement agencies when necessary. The language resembles a suggestion by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., And Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Aiming to tie tech platform liability coverage to measures aimed at combating material used to exploit children. A version of their EARN It Act was passed in the Judiciary Committee in July.

In 2018, a series of laws known as FOSTA-SESTA created Section 230 immunity for platforms hosting sex work posts. The bills sparked an ongoing debate on how to effectively reform the legal shield, as advocates of sex workers have argued that the reforms made their work less safe.

"Despite Section 230, so many voices from across the political spectrum can express their thoughts online," said the Internet association in a statement following the DOJ proposal. The trading group represents top tech platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter and has spoken out in favor of maintaining Section 230 protection many times.

The DOJ's proposal specifically states that nothing in the law should prevent enforcement under other types of laws, including antitrust laws. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have been examined by lawmakers and enforcers under antitrust law. Outlets like the New York Times have reported that the DOJ is preparing an antitrust proceeding against Google that could take place this month.

The Trump administration is expected to encourage a group of Republican attorneys general at a meeting on Wednesday to investigate social media companies for allegations they are censoring conservative voices, according to the Washington Post. CNBC confirmed that nine state corporations will attend the White House meeting: Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

"Online censorship goes well beyond free speech. It also serves to protect consumers and ensure they are informed of their rights and resources to fight the law," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement on Tuesday. "The attorneys general are at the forefront of this issue and President Trump wants to hear their perspectives."

– CNBC's Ylan Mui contributed to this report.

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Katherine Clark