Risk & Compliance

DoJ Proposes Weakening Tech Immunity Law

"The time is ripe to realign the scope of Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act] with the realities of the modern internet."
Matthew HellerJune 18, 2020

The U.S. Department of Justice has recommended changes to the law that protects online platforms from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to moderate that content.

In unveiling the reform package, the DoJ said the time was “ripe to realign the scope of Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act of 1996] with the realities of the modern internet. Reform is important now more than ever.”

Among other things, the proposal would amend Section 230 to remove the liability shield when a platform “purposefully facilitates or solicits third-party content or activity that would violate federal criminal law” and provide an exemption for claims that “address particularly egregious conduct,” including child exploitation, terrorism and cyber-stalking.

Section 230 also immunizes platforms from being held liable for restricting access to certain content including what they consider to be “otherwise objectionable.”

Under the DoJ’s blueprint, “otherwise objectionable” would be replaced with “unlawful” and “promotes terrorism.”

While some lawmakers have called for the law to be repealed entirely, the DoJ said it was aiming for a “productive middle ground” and had identified “a set of measured, yet concrete proposals that address many of the concerns raised about Section 230.”

“These reforms will ensure that Section 230 immunity incentivizes online platforms to be responsible actors,” Attorney General William Barr said in a news release.

As Ars Technica reports, ‘”Section 230’ has become a rallying cry for politicians of both parties who feel that the status quo of social media isn’t working.” Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, suggested the DoJ had gone too far in seeking to limit tech companies’ discretion over the content on their sites.

“While I believe reform of this outdated law is needed, I have serious concerns that under the supervision of Attorney General Barr this effort has been politicized and will be used by the Trump administration to cow platforms into allowing Trump, dark money groups, and right-wing militias to continue to exploit their tools to sow disinformation, engage in targeted harassment, and suppress voter participation,” he said in a statement.

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