Why the US Communications Decency Act has been changed

Mar 24, 2018 by

The following article by Professor Karl Stephan, written earlier this month in support of the legislation, explains how the decency law unintentionally came to facilitate the darkest material on the internet.

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the Ministry of Peace fights wars and the Ministry of Truth tells lies.  In the United States, internet service providers are currently immune from prosecution for sex trafficking carried out by third parties who use their services. Why? Because of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, or CDA.

To be fair to the drafters of the original legislation, they really did intend to clean up the Internet, which was a very different place in 1996 than it is today. Congress passed and President Clinton signed the CDA with the intention of making obscene or indecent web content illegal.

But the following year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union that the indecency restrictions violated the principle of free speech, and voided them. But the court let stand a part of the law called Section 230.

Section 230 is a classic case of unintended consequences.  What it does is to make internet service providers (ISPs and other analogous enterprises such as Google and Facebook, neither of which existed in 1997) immune from liability when they carry material provided by third parties, such as for example sex traffickers. The motivation for this section can be understood if we compare the Internet to an older form of communication, namely the newspaper.

Source: Why the US Communications Decency Act has been changed

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