US Questions Tech Firm Liability Exemption For User Posts

The need to continue to protect tech firms such as Google and Facebook from legal liability for the content they host have been questioned by senior US officials.

US Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday questioned whether major online platforms still need immunity from legal liability that has prevented them from being sued over the material their users post.

It is the latest intervention by Barr in the tech sphere. A couple of weeks ago he suggested that the United States and its allies take a ‘controlling stake’ in Ericsson and Nokia to counter Huawei.

Copyright New York Post

Section 230

This time however, Barr addressed the where the United States still needs to have the Section 230 immunity that states that tech firms such as Facebook and Google, are not actually publishers of the material online.

““No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts. They have become titans,” Barr was quoted by Reuters as saying at a public meeting held by the Justice Department to examine the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Given this changing technological landscape, valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is necessary at least in its current form,” he reportedly said.

To clarify, Section 230 says online companies cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of the information they provide. This provision largely exempting these tech firms from liability involving content posted by users.

That said, firms can still be held liable in the United States for content that violates criminal or intellectual property law.

DoJ investigation

The increased size and power of online platforms has also left consumers with fewer options and the lack of feasible alternatives is a relevant discussion, Barr reportedly said, adding that the Section 230 review came out of the Justice Department’s broad review of potential anticompetitive practices at tech companies.

According to Reuters, lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties have called for Congress to change Section 230 in ways that could expose tech companies to more lawsuits or significantly increase their costs.

“While our efforts to ensure competitive markets through antitrust enforcement and policy are critical, we recognize that not all of the concerns raised about online platforms squarely fall within antitrust,” Barr reportedly said.

He said the department will not advocate a position at the meeting on Wednesday but its goal is to listen to opinions from various stakeholders.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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