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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

Biden to sign executive orders focused on women's rights

President Biden. Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Biden will sign executive orders Monday establishing a Gender Policy Council and directing the Department of Education to review the federal law Title IX, according to administration officials.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is signaling its priorities to advance gender equity and equality as women, particularly women of color, have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

3 hours ago - World

Report: U.S. calls for UN-led Afghan peace talks

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, D.C., in February. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter outlining a plan to accelerate peace talks with the Taliban that the U.S. is "considering" a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghan outlet TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: In the letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, also obtained by Western news outlets, Blinken expresses concern that the Taliban "could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid, as he urges him to embrace his proposal.

Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

Photo: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via Reuters

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a devastating indictment of the U.K. royal family in their conversation with Oprah Winfrey: Both said unnamed relatives had expressed concern about what the skin tone of their baby would be. And they accused "the firm" of character assassination and "perpetuating falsehoods."

Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.

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