Today, TechFreedom joined the Center for Democracy and Technology and a bipartisan coalition of advocacy organizations, trade associations, investors, and legal scholars in condemning a recent proposal by 47 state attorneys general to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As explained in our recent TechBriefing, current law protects online intermediaries from most liability for user-generated content — meaning sites like Facebook or YouTube can allow individuals to post messages, videos, and other items without fearing legal action.
The attorneys general proposal would allow criminal prosecution of companies and their executives for state laws broken by their users, subjecting intermediaries to the incredibly burdensome task of complying with an immense patchwork of differing criminal codes. There’s a reason that TechFreedom President Berin Szoka said, “Usually when someone says a law will break the Internet they are exaggerating. This law would, that’s no exaggeration.” As the letter states:
The AGs’ proposed exception would replace the certainty that Section 230 provides with openended legal risk. By hosting third-party content, online service providers would expose themselves to potential prosecution under literally thousands of criminal statutes on a state-bystate basis. Keeping up with the thicket of state criminal laws would be a significant burden, especially for start-ups and smaller companies, and the risk of liability would create a strong incentive for companies to minimize or avoid interactive features and user-generated content. Users of those services big – or brave – enough to continue allowing user content at all would face invasive and censorial screening procedures as companies seek to reduce their risk. Upsetting the safe harbor that has enabled the US Internet sector to lead the world would thus endanger jobs and future growth and undermine the power of the Internet to promote free expression.
Check out our TechBriefing for an explanation of recent proposals to amend Section 230, the legal and policy issues, and TechFreedom’s recommendations. The full coalition letter is attached below, and is also available here .