Jun 12, 2020 - Technology

FCC Republican voices doubts about Trump's executive order

FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly during a meeting
FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said he's unsure whether his agency has the authority to carry out President Trump's executive order targeting tech firms' legal protections.

Why it matters: Trump's order seeks to have the FCC craft regulations limiting the scope of legal immunity that online platforms have under federal law. All three commission Republicans would need to support such regulations for them to pass, as the FCC's two Democrats are certain to oppose them.

Details: In an interview Wednesday for C-SPAN's "The Communicators," O'Rielly told Axios he sympathizes with the president's claims that conservatives have been unfairly stifled online, but "what we do about that is a different story."

  • O'Rielly questioned whether Congress gave the FCC the power to regulate based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes platforms from legal action over user-posted content and moderation decisions.
  • "I have deep reservations they provided any intentional authority for this matter, but I want to listen to people," O'Rielly said, later adding, "I do not believe it is the right of the agency to read into the statute authority that is not there."
  • The executive order directs the Commerce Department to petition the FCC to review the issue. Assuming it gets to that stage, O'Rielly wants the FCC to put the matter to the public for comment.

Context: O'Rielly has been nominated by the White House for another term on the commission. The Senate Commerce Committee has a hearing on his renomination scheduled for Tuesday.

  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stayed relatively quiet on the executive order, while the third Republican on the commission, Brendan Carr, has been vocal in his support.

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