Regular readers will be aware of what has been going on with the Backpage saga in the USA. It’s all about the way s.230 of the ironically-named Communications Decency Act, 1996, appeared to be providing a shield for companies like Backpage to facilitate child sex trafficking and other forms of child sexual exploitation.
A Bill proposed by Senators Portman, a Republican, and Blumenthal, a Democrat, is trying to amend the law, inter alia, to resolve uncertainties which seem to have arisen about the proper construction of s.230. The Portman-Blumenthal Bill would make it crystal clear there is no immunity of any kind for anyone knowingly aiding and abetting companies like Backpage.
The Bill is doing well but there is a long way to go before we can say for sure that the forces of sweetness and light are going to win.
Now park that. We’ll come back to it.
A rumour reaches my ears
Earlier this week I heard an astonishing rumour. Yesterday it was confirmed to be a fact.
So now we know that, even as reform is being debated on the hill, tech firms are lobbying the Trump White House to have a s.230 lookalike incorporated into the NAFTA trade discussions that are going on in a separate part of the forest.
That is chutzpah on stilts.
Watch out Canada and Mexico. Watch out world.
The effect of what the tech firms are doing would be to export a s.230 regime, as is, to poor old Canada and Mexico. And, of course, if this idea makes any headway, it raises the prospect that the same businesses will try to get it included in yet more trade deals with other countries or trading blocs.
Knowing how keen British Prime Minister May is to conclude a post-Brexit trade agreement with the USA that makes me worry. Parochialism aside it should make everyone worry, whatever country they live in, if they have an existing trade agreement with the USA or might be trying to secure one.
At a stretch, could it also mean that whatever befalls the Portman-Blumenthal Bill if a clause makes it into the NAFTA Treaty that will ,er, “trump” the then status quo? No. Surely it couldn’t. Could it?
And global standards? Only when it suits us
Here’s my other take on this: I have lost count of the number of times, in venues such as the IGF and ICANN, representatives of tech companies and their numerous allies and surrogates have genuflected at the altar of global standards which are the product of a careful, deliberative, evidence-based, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up dialogue and process.
Yet here we see an obvious willingness to ditch that idea altogether in favour of exporting a hard and very US-centric position.
Words (almost) fail me.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the State of California is talking a lot of sense. He is asking the tech industry to sit down with him and others to chart an agreed way forward.