Aug 1, 2017

Tech firms fight anti-trafficking bill

Backpage.com executives and the sites ex-owners are sworn in before a Senate hearing. (Cliff Owen / AP)

Tech giants are fighting a new anti-sex trafficking bill in the Senate they say would expose major online platforms and other web businesses to dangerous legal liability.

At issue: The bill would weaken a legal provision — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — that shields platforms from liability for any content posted to their platforms by users. The bill would get rid of "federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws" and empower victims to pursue websites legally, according to bill sponsor Sen. Rob Portman's office.

Why it matters: Tech cares a lot about Section 230 and will fight any attempts to water it down. Without it, their ability to host user-generated content could crumble, along with the accompanying advertising revenue.

What tech says: Companies argued that Section 230's protections built the foundation for the success of major platform companies, like Facebook and Airbnb. The Internet Association, which represents both companies, said the bill "would create a new wave of frivolous and unpredictable actions against legitimate companies rather than addressing underlying criminal behavior" and "jeopardizes bedrock principles of a free and open internet, with serious economic and speech implications well beyond its intended scope."

Other pushback: The bill has some big-name co-sponsors, which could give it momentum. But they'll face opposition from at least some of their colleagues. ""I would be very opposed to something like this that also has done so much to encourage innovation and created literally hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth in the private economy," Sen. Ron Wyden, who helped write Section 230, told Axios as he headed into a weekly lunch meeting.

Go deeper

American carnage

Protesters race up a hill to avoid tear gas in Philadelphia, June 1. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The list of victims has swiftly grown since George Floyd died in police custody just eight days ago.

The big picture: Protests against police brutality have turned into a showcase of police brutality, with tear gas and rubber bullets deployed against crowds. The police have the arsenals at their disposal, but we're also seeing law enforcement officers becoming targets.

McConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump's actions against peaceful protesters

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked a resolution introduced by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday that would have condemned the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday in order to allow President Trump to walk to St. John's Church.

What they're saying: "Justice for black Americans in the face of unjust violence, and peace for our country in the face of looting, riots, and domestic terror. Those are the two issues Americans want addressed," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

George W. Bush breaks silence on George Floyd

Goerge Bush in Michigan in 2009. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush (R) wrote in a statement Tuesday that he and his wife, Laura, are "anguished" by the death of George Floyd, and said that "it is time for America to examine our tragic failures."

Why it matters: It's a stark juxtaposition when compared to fellow Republican President Trump's response to current civil unrest. While Trump has called for justice in Floyd's death, he's also condemned protestors and threatened to deploy military personnel if demonstrations continue.