April 1st, 2012
Joe Lieberman, it seems, is looking to crank up the anti-terrorism volume a bit further. I would have thought that with Bin Laden killed we’d be heading in the other direction by now.
But a friend of mine in the GPO let me know that Lieberman is proposing an amendment to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That is the law that gives immunity to information content providers for the conduct of others. In other words, a blogger or forum host isn’t responsible for defamatory comments by anonymous commenters.
This amendment to that law would change that, by stripping out the immunity and leaving web hosts potentially liable. Yuck. A draft of the bill, apparently to be introduced tomorrow, is here: Section 230 Amendment The act as it stands now reads:
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.
The amendment reads (underline is an addition and strike through is a deletion in legislatureland):
No A provider or user of an interactive computer service shall may be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
The Senator calls this anti-terrorism legislation, in that if web hosts can be held accountable, they won’t let folks like the Taliban uses their services. This disrupts their communications.
While you might think this is far-fetched, Lieberman (in)famously asked Twitter late last year to kill the Taliban Twitter feed. He has also tried to make First Amendment inroads by stopping the media from publishing leaked documents with the Shield Act.
The effect of this, of course, is that forum hosts and blogs may not be too keen on having anonymous commenters anymore if the hosts might be held responsible for the comments of others, thus chilling the free speech of the internet. We’ve enjoyed a bit of a Wild West since 1996 when the law was passed. This would bring us back to the days of Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, which preceded Section 230, and held that a publisher might be liable for the conduct of its message board participants under certain circumstances.
Lieberman’s amendment to Section 230 will be referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, of which he is the chairman. I guess that is one of the perks of the job, you can get your bills into and out of committee pretty fast, assuming you have the votes.