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Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

A top Justice Department official suggested Tuesday that tech's prized liability shield could be changed to limit online platforms' ability to censor content.

The big picture: DOJ officials including Attorney General Bill Barr have expressed concerns about the reach of Section 230. His deputy now contends tech companies may be using the law as a “blank check” to remove lawful speech, echoing GOP claims that platforms disproportionately target conservative content for deletion.

Driving the news: Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a speech Tuesday that there are several areas that are "potentially ripe for engagement" when it comes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online companies against lawsuits over content posted by their users.

  • One area, Rosen noted, is that Section 230 specifically gives platforms the ability to remove content they believe is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable."
  • But he said the DOJ has heard this gives platforms a "blank check" to remove content and suggested the broad term "otherwise objectionable" be reconsidered.
  • "Of course, platforms can choose whether or not to remove any content on their websites," Rosen told attendees at the Free State Foundation's annual telecom policy conference in D.C. "But should they automatically be granted full statutory immunity for removing lawful speech and given carte blanche as a censor if the content is not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent or harassing under the statute?"

Between the lines: The debate over how political speech is treated online arose during the Justice Department's private session on Section 230 in February, the Washington Post reported. A DOJ recommendation to rewrite the statute to address concerns about platforms stifling certain political speech would be a strong signal to Congress.

Go deeper: Justice Department takes aim at Big Tech's shield

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record.
  2. Politics: States beg for Warp Speed billions.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases.
  4. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.

Technical glitch in Facebook's ad tools creates political firestorm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: SOPA Images / Contributor

Facebook said late Thursday that a mix of "technical problems" and confusion among advertisers around its new political ad ban rules caused issues affecting ad campaigns of both parties.

Why it matters: A report out Thursday morning suggested the ad tools were causing campaign ads, even those that adhered to Facebook's new rules, to be paused. Very quickly, political campaigners began asserting the tech giant was enforcing policies in a way that was biased against their campaigns.

5 hours ago - Health

States beg for Warp Speed billions

A COVID-19 drive-thru testing center yesterday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Photo: David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

Operation Warp Speed has an Achilles' heel: States need billions to distribute vaccines — and many say they don't have the cash.

Why it matters: The first emergency use authorization could come as soon as next month, but vaccines require funding for workers, shipping and handling, and for reserving spaces for vaccination sites.

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