US debate on internet liability spills over to global trade deals

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week backed a move by fellow lawmakers to carve out the so-called Section 230 protection — which some activists say is a cornerstone of the open internet — from a North American trade pact with Canada and Mexico, known as USMCA. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 December 2019

US debate on internet liability spills over to global trade deals

  • Section 230 has become a proxy for the frustrations with Facebook and Google, says expert

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers seeking to rein in Big Tech have been stepping up efforts to limit legal immunity for online services, and now are taking that fight global.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week backed a move by fellow lawmakers to carve out the so-called Section 230 protection — which some activists say is a cornerstone of the open internet — from a North American trade pact with Canada and Mexico, known as USMCA.

“There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial Section 230 liability shield in our trade agreements, particularly at a time when Congress is considering whether changes need to be made in US law,” Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly said.

Debate on Section 230, a clause in the 1996 Communications Decency Act, has been raging for months amid rising concerns about the failure of tech platforms to curb hate speech, extremist content, copyright infringement and other abuses.

The effort to modify the law — which immunizes online services from third-party content on their sites — has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley proposed legislation earlier this year that would end the immunity unless companies submit to an “external audit” which shows they are acting in a “politically neutral” manner.

“With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: Complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” Hawley said in introducing the legislation. “Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.”

Civil liberties activists said Hawley’s bill is unconstitutional and would put the government in charge of regulating speech. Other analysts point out that Section 230 has enabled the internet to thrive and that modifying it could be devastating for the internet and online speech.

“The services that we enjoy the most exist because of Section 230,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High-Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.

Goldman said Section 230 has become a “proxy” for the frustrations with Facebook and Google but that “American consumers would be the losers” if the law is weakened.

Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told a congressional hearing in October that Section 230 protects not only major tech platforms, but any online activity — from forwarding an email to commenting in a news forum to sharing pictures and videos of friends — from “third party liability.”

McSherry said that without Section 230, tech firms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter would not exist in their current form because they would not be able to host user content without fear of a lawsuit.

She argued that eliminating Section 230 would “cement the dominance” of these firms, because it would mean higher costs to filter and moderate content that new startups could not afford.

According to Katherine Oyama, Google’s head of intellectual property policy, the internet would be a far different experience without the liability shield.

“Without Section 230, platforms could face liability for decisions around removal of content from their platforms,” she told lawmakers.


Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

Updated 17 January 2020

Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

  • Leaders agree initial $6.8bn projects plan, including initiative to build a replica of Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Java

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s business community on Thursday welcomed the UAE’s pledge to pump tens of billions of dollars into a wide range of key sector projects.

President Joko Widodo and his entourage secured an overall $22.9 billion deal during an official two-day visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this week covering the fields of energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture.

It was also revealed that the delegation brokered a UAE commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

At a bilateral meeting, the Indonesian leader and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan witnessed the signing of 11 business accords between the two countries. Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into the initiatives.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s chief minister for maritime affairs and investment, described the UAE’s pledges as possibly being “the biggest deals in Indonesia’s history, secured with the UAE within only six months,” referring to the crown prince’s visit to Indonesia last July.

While most lauded the deal, some Indonesian business leaders remained cautious over the long-term prospects for the projects.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee and OIC at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the schemes could trigger a wide-ranging domino effect through job creation and other business ventures.

“The government needs to have a strong lobbying team that can follow up these deals and push them into investment realizations. We have had such commitments from other Gulf countries, but there was no further lobbying and the pledges were hardly realized,” he told Arab News.

Zaini Alawi, a businessman who exports and imports between Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “It would set a good precedent to attract other Gulf countries to invest here if Indonesia shows it could aptly manage these investment deals.”

Director for Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Achmad Rizal Purnama, told Arab News that the $6.8 billion commitment from the UAE was only the first phase of a long-term program.

Widodo and the crown prince also witnessed the signing of five government cooperation agreements in health, agriculture, Islamic affairs, and counterterrorism.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said one of the main aspects of the cooperation agreement would be the promotion of religious moderation and raising awareness of the dangers of extremism.

FASTFACT

The UAE has pledged to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

Noting that the UAE had pledged to fund the construction of a replica of the Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Solo, the president’s hometown in Java, the minister pointed out that the grant was part of a commitment by the two countries to establish a mosque that welcomed all people and served a pivotal role in promoting the middle path of Islam.

Riza Widyarsa, a Middle East expert at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the cooperation deal could help more Indonesians to understand that not all countries in the Middle East observed conservative Islam. “They are also very active in countering religious extremism and radicalism,” he said.

In addition to the multi-billion-dollar projects, Purnama said Indonesia had also secured the UAE’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

And according to Pandjaitan, the UAE had pledged to be “the biggest contributor” to the fund.

The fund would be used to finance Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development projects and the construction of its proposed new capital in East Kalimantan, a relocation that has been estimated to cost $33 billion and of which Indonesia could only afford 19 percent.

He said all parties involved would meet in Tokyo soon to set up the structure of the fund and to finalize the plan, which the government expected to launch by mid-2020, a year after the crown prince proposed the idea to Widodo.

“This could be the first time that big capitalists work together in a single project,” Pandjaitan added.