Legislation in the USA

Regular readers will be aware of the twists and turns of the debate surrounding the future of s. 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 1996. That is the thoroughly ill-fitting name for a law which has protected companies like Backpage from being prosecuted for facilitating child prostitution and trafficking.

Republican Senator Portman and Democrat Senator Blumenthal proposed an amendment to the law. Large swathes of the tech industry opposed it.

Not any more, it seems. Big tech has had a change of heart and, as a result, a slightly revised version of the amendment has just cleared a crucial hurdle in the Senate which apparently has, in turn, cleared the way for a final vote in both Houses.

No doubt people will speculate about the reasons why big tech has shifted its position and they are likely to conclude that they are running scared because of the obvious and still mounting anger in Washington over “fake news” and related matters. In other words, political will and political circumstances, in the end, are what count.

I trust this moral is not lost on members of the UK Parliament and the powers that be in the European Union.

Not everybody is happy but there you go. Seemingly bodies such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation still say it is an “awful Bill”. Why? Because they believe that in order to avoid any risk of being liable for facilitating child prostitution or trafficking internet businesses will “err on the side of removal”. Three cheers for that is all I can say.

Obviously, I am not in favour of innocent speech being wrongly deleted but if that is truly a concern perhaps it will act as a spur to find ever more ingenious ways of solving it. Erring on the side of protecting children is not a shortcoming as far as I am concerned. The wonder and the shame is that it has taken this long to get there.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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