Attorney General Curtis Hill joined 46 other attorneys general across the country this week to ask Congress for the third time to amend the Communications Decency Act in order to make sure state and local authorities are able to protect citizens online and take appropriate action against criminal acts.
The Communication Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was designed to encourage the growth of the internet by promoting free expression, particularly on online message boards. The Act was intended to allow companies that sponsor message boards to remain immune to repercussions from inappropriate posts, but, due to a misinterpretation of Section 230 of the Act, some federal court opinions have interpreted it so broadly that individuals and services that knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity have evaded prosecution.
“We must do our best to protect our citizens, enforce the law and penalize violators,” Attorney General Hill said. “Congress must hold internet service providers accountable.”
“Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” and “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (known as FOSTA-SESTA) was signed into law in 2018, making clear that the CDA’s immunity does not apply to enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws. The abuse on these platforms does not stop at sex trafficking; it also includes other harmful illegal activity such as online black market opioid sales, identity theft and election meddling.
Section 230 expressly exempts prosecution of federal crimes from the safe harbor, but “addressing criminal activity cannot be relegated to federal enforcement alone simply because the activity occurs online,” the letter states. “Attorneys General must be allowed to address these crimes themselves and fulfill our primary mandate to protect our citizens and enforce their rights.”
Attorneys general have addressed this issue with Congress before. In 2013 and 2017, nearly every state and territory attorney general wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 of the CDA.