Feb 1, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Joe Manchin's bid to pierce tech's shield

An illustration of mouse cursors pointing at a shield.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is reviving his bipartisan bill that would add fresh carve-outs to tech's liability shield to force online platforms to report opioid sales and other illegal activity on their websites to law enforcement.

Why it matters: As the 117th Congress shifts into gear, tech companies will again be fighting attempts by lawmakers of both parties to tweak or curb Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields website operators like Facebook or Reddit from liability over content their users post.

Details: Manchin and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are announcing Monday they have reintroduced their "See Something, Say Something Online Act," which would add provisions to Section 230 requiring companies to report suspicious activity to law enforcement through a new clearinghouse within the Justice Department.

  • Companies must take "reasonable steps" to prevent or address illegal activity, and can be held liable if they fail to report it.

Yes, but: The tech industry has said the bill would put companies in the untenable position of trying to figure out what is and isn't evidence of a crime, which could lead to sharing user information with law enforcement to avoid liability.

The big picture: The bill is one of several whacks at Section 230 in the works on the Hill, with both Democrats and Republicans eager to make changes to the 1996 law to bring tech giants to heel.

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