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.


US job growth slows sharply in July

Updated 07 August 2020

US job growth slows sharply in July

  • Nonfarm payrolls increased by 1.763 million jobs last month after a record 4.791 million in June
  • The US economy suffered its biggest blow since the Great Depression in the second quarter

WASHINGTON: US employment growth slowed considerably in July amid a resurgence in new COVID-19 infections, offering the clearest evidence yet that the economy’s recovery from the recession caused by the pandemic was faltering.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 1.763 million jobs last month after a record 4.791 million in June, the Labor Department said on Friday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 1.6 million jobs were added in July.
The unemployment rate fell to 10.2 percent from 11.1 percent in June, but it has been biased downward by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” At least 31.3 million people were receiving unemployment checks in mid-July.
“The steam has gone out of the engine and the economy is beginning to slow,” said Sung Won Sohn, a finance and economics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “The loss of momentum will continue and my concern is that the combination of the virus resurgence and lack of action by Congress could really push employment into negative territory.”
The labor market step-back is more bad news for President Donald Trump, who is lagging in opinion polls behind former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for the Nov. 3 election.
It also piles up pressure on the White House and Congress to speed up negotiations on a second aid package, which have been dragging over differences on major issues including the size of a government benefit for tens of millions of unemployed workers.
A $600 weekly unemployment benefit supplement expired last Friday, while thousands of businesses have burned through loans offered by the government to help with wages.
The economy, which entered into recession in February, suffered its biggest blow since the Great Depression in the second quarter, with gross domestic product dropping at its steepest pace in at least 73 years.
Infections of the respiratory illness soared across the country last month, forcing authorities in some of the worst affected areas in the West and South to either shut down businesses again or pause reopenings, sending workers back home. Demand for goods and services has suffered.
The slowdown in hiring challenges the US stock market’s expectation of a V-shaped recovery. The S&P 500 index is up nearly 50 percent from its March trough. As COVID-19 cases spiral, and Republicans and Democrats bicker over another stimulus package, economists see a W-shaped recovery.
Economists estimate the Paycheck Protection Program that gave businesses loans that can be partially forgiven if used for employee pay saved around 1.3 million jobs at its peak. The extra $600 weekly unemployment checks made up 20 percent of personal income and helped to boost consumer spending in May and June.