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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

Media giants back Bannon's bid to release Jan. 6 documents

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon at the FBI Washington Field Office in Washington, DC., in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A coalition of news outlets including the Washington Post is supporting Stephen Bannon's campaign for the release of documents related to his contempt of Congress charges, WashPost confirmed Wednesday.

Why it matters: WashPost, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal's parent company and others filed a motion arguing that a proposed protective order seeking to prevent the documents from being released violates the First Amendment, per the Daily Mail, which first reported on the news.

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

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