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.


Riyadh property market swells as mortgages surge 250%

Updated 29 January 2020

Riyadh property market swells as mortgages surge 250%

  • Vision 2030 economic reforms and major infrastructure projects encourage investment into capital’s real estate sector

LONDON: Riyadh recorded a 250 percent jump in mortgages last year as the value and number of property deals surged in the Saudi capital.

The volume of real estate transactions rose by 53 percent in 2019 compared to a year earlier while the value of transactions was up 63 percent according to a report from broker CBRE.

“The recent economic and social initiatives and legislation introduced by the Saudi Government have already had an extremely positive impact on the country’s real estate sector,” said Simon Townsend, head of strategic advisory at CBRE MENAT. “We are already starting to witness impressive growth across major real estate segments including residential, hospitality and retail, and this upwards trajectory is likely to continue in the short to medium term.”

Ongoing economic reforms under the Vision 2030 initiative have encouraged investment into the real estate sector while spending on major infrastructure projects such as the Riyadh Metro and tourism developments on the Red Sea coast have helped to boost confidence despite oversupply concerns.

“Overall, the country is making great leaps in its efforts to become a global business hub and world-class tourism destination, and the market is expected to continue to react positively to the efforts of the public and private sectors alike,” added Townsend.

Residential mortgages for individuals in the Kingdom recorded a growth rate of more than 250 percent in terms of the number of contracts signed from January 2019 — November 2019, according to the CBRE data. The value of contracts rose by more than 160 percent in the same period year-on-year. 

FASTFACT

At the end of last year, the capital’s residential supply stood at 1,290,000 residential units with an expected delivery of 111,000 additional units by 2023.

In October 2019, the Ministry of Housing launched an initiative to support residential renovations by providing financing for residential units more than 15 years old which is expected to result in higher activity among existing aging stock within the central districts of Riyadh.

Beneficiaries of the Saudi Ministry of Housing’s ‘Sakani’ initiative aimed at increasing the national rate of home ownership, grew by about 14 percent in 2019.

At the end of last year, the capital’s residential supply stood at 1,290,000 residential units with an expected delivery of 111,000 additional units by 2023, CBRE said.

Hotel occupancy is also on the rise in the capital and is expected to receive a further boost from Saudi Arabia hosting the G20 summit this year.

The opening of Qiddiya entertainment giga project which is scheduled for 2023 is also expected to benefit the tourism sector.

There are currently about 17,700 hotel rooms in Riyadh with another 4,500 expected to enter the market by 2023. Hotel occupancy has risen by 5 percent year-on-year, CBRE said.