ASNE joins effort to protect free speech on the Internet
ASNE was one of 23 non-governmental organizations, trade associations and media investors who were joined by 19 prominent law professors to compose a letter to the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Committees on Energy and Commerce. The letter asked those committees to oppose a recent proposal by 47 state attorneys general to gut a key legal protection for free speech on the Internet. This protection is relied on every day by news entities across the country.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
It immunizes website owners and operators from liability based on content posted to their sites by third parties. The protection is enjoyed most by news sites that offer readers the ability to comment on articles. Section 230 ensures that anything posted by readers in the comment section will not result in liability for the organization in issues such as defamation or invasion of privacy.
That protection allows the site to remove as many or as few posts as it wants without fear. Although criticized by some as helping the dark side of the Internet, there's no question that it's also helped ensure the growth of the Internet as a vibrant medium.
The 47 state attorneys general have asked the U.S. Congress to cut into Section 230
to allow for better enforcement of laws against child sex trafficking and child pornography. Although these attorneys general claim theirs is a narrow attempt to get at bad actors, the actual proposal would go much further because their proposed legislation is anything but narrowly tailored to their stated goal.
Specifically, they propose amending Section 230 to add, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the enforcement of section 223 or 231 of this title, chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or 110 (relating to sexual exploitation of children) of Title 18, or any other Federal or State criminal statute."
Although these attorneys general say that their proposal is targeted at advertising the sex trade, especially child sex trafficking and child pornography, the proposed language could be overapplied by an overzealous prosecutor. Moreover, the wording "or any other Federal or State criminal statute" would require an online publication to screen all of the content in comments section to see if it violates state or federal law; this exception to Section 230 would swallow the protection entirely.
ASNE, and we're sure that all of the signatories agree, is 100 percent opposed to child sex trafficking and child pornography, but this legislative proposal is so overbroad that it is simply unsupportable. ASNE, only speaking for ourselves, welcomes the opportunity to work with these state attorneys general on a more narrowly tailored solution.