Tech Groups Oppose Changing Content Liability Law

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By Alexis Kramer

Ten tech trade groups representing Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, and Facebook Inc. Aug. 2 weighed in against a Senate bill that would make changes to a federal law shielding websites from liability for third-party content.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced a bill Aug. 1 that would hold websites liable for knowingly publishing content designed to enable sex trafficking. The bill would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that critics say grants overly broad protection to online platforms and obstructs attempts to seek relief for harms allegedly suffered as a result of online content.

In a letter to Portman and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), groups including the Computer and Communications Industry Association and the Internet Association said the bill would have “a devastating impact on legitimate online services without having a meaningful impact on ending trafficking crimes.” The bill would discourage online platforms from investing in new tools to self-police content out of fear of liability and force them to remove large amounts of legitimate content, the groups said.

The legislation follows a two-year probe led by Portman into classified ad site Backpage.com LLC’s alleged facilitation of sex trafficking. Courts have repeatedly held that Section 230 protects Backpage from claims that it enables sex traffickers to advertise their victims online.

The measure “preserves internet freedom while holding accountable those who actively facilitate online sex trafficking,” Portman spokeswoman Emily Benavides told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 2. “In fact, this bill preserves the CDA’s ‘Good Samaritan’ provision, which protects good actors who pro-actively block and screen for offensive material.”

The groups said in their letter that legislation isn’t necessary to hold bad actors accountable. Congress should instead work with the Justice Department to target, prosecute and shut down rogue websites, the groups said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at aKramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Full text of the letter is available at http://src.bna.com/rkh.

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