Proposed US Legislation Threatens Online Free Expression
by Stephen Lendman (stephenlendman.org – Home – Stephen Lendman)
Too often, congressional legislation does far more harm than good, especially since the neoliberal 90s – NAFTA and other unfair “free trade” policies noted examples, along with the disastrous 1996 Telecommunications Act discussed below.
Things got much worse post-9/11 with passage of AUMF legislation, facilitating unlimited naked aggression, numerous police state laws, and other measures harming the general welfare.
If passed by both houses and signed into law, S. 1693 – “A bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify that section 230 of that Act does not prohibit the enforcement against providers and users of interactive computer services of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sex trafficking.”
It shortened title is “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). On August 1, it was referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for further consideration.
The measure uses sex trafficking for darker purposes. It threatens online free speech, along with exposing small Internet firms to litigation, potentially able to put them out of business.
It’ll do nothing to curtail or punish sex traffickers. It potentially libels any individual, organization or business hosting third-party content online if sex traffickers use their services.
With a risk this great, many entrepreneurs and investors may be deterred from creating and developing new businesses online.
The measure will weaken the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) – part of the disastrous Telecommunications Act, deregulating communication industries, paving the way for greater consolidation, less competition, less concern about diversity and choice, and higher profits at the expense of consumer-friendly policies.
Added to the legislation, CDA was enacted to regulate pornographic material online. In Reno v. ACLU (1997), the Supreme Court struck anti-indecency provisions from the law.
With censorship provisions eliminated by the High Court, it became important free speech-protecting legislation.
CDA’s Section 230 dealt with individuals, groups and businesses involved in providing a platform for sharing online content. It states intermediaries can’t be held legally responsible for material created by others, protecting them from liability.
The provision helped drive the creation and growth of online entrepreneurial operations, web sites, social media, and other services since the mid-1990s.
Without it, Internet operations would have been hamstrung by potential liability for publishing material judged illegal.
If enacted, SESTA will discourage Internet start-ups along with NGO and community group platforms, gravely harming free expression, along with hampering online innovation and growth.
It’ll encourage federal, state and local censorship. It’ll put online operations at risk for just knowing or suspecting that sex trafficking material is on their sites.
Further, discouraging start-ups would enable existing operations to become more dominant, including through mergers and acquisitions.
Well-known social media and other sites began small. Unthreatened by possible liability lawsuits, they became large operations.
Perhaps businesses like Facebook, Twitter and others wouldn’t have been launched if faced with the threat of crippling liability lawsuits.
Senate legislation has 24 sponsors. A similar House measure is worse.
Without strong public opposition, disastrous Internet censorship could become the law of the land – potentially affecting everyone posting material online.
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