State Attorneys General Really Want To Go After Big Internet Companies; But Claim It's About Privacy, Not Bias
from the we'll-see... dept
We’ve written a few times about how Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan to meet with State Attorneys General about going after big internet companies for perceived political bias was a clear First Amendment problem. He still held the meeting earlier this week, and it appears that at least some of the attendees agreed that targeting how the platforms present content was likely a non-starter, even if Sessions apparently kept trying to raise it as an issue. From a Washington Post report that quotes a few people who were in attendance:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened the meeting by raising questions of possible ideological bias among the tech companies and sought to bring the conversation back to that topic at least twice more, according to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine.
Of course, the fact that the others in attendance mostly pushed past the question of political bias isn’t exactly good news for the internet platforms, as the AGs apparently focused on other ways they could and should target the companies:
?We were unanimous. Our focus is going to be on antitrust and privacy. That?s where our laws are,? Jim Hood, Mississippi?s attorney general, said in an interview.
Of course, it seems like almost journalistic malpractice to quote Jim Hood talking about going after social media platforms without mentioning the fact that he was the centerpiece of a the conspiracy by the top movie studios to attack Google with nonsensical complaints about illegal things he found while doing searches on Google. If you don’t recall, the Sony hack revealed a plot by the legacy movie studios to have their lawyers effectively run an investigation for Jim Hood — and even the NY Times revealed that his eventual subpoena to Google was written by the MPAA’s lawyers. A judge reviewing Google’s legal fight with Hood noted that it seemed pretty clear that Hood’s actions were done in “bad faith.” So… consider me at least marginally skeptical that Hood is an objective voice on what is and is not appropriate for a state Attorney General to investigate regarding the big internet platforms.
Obviously, if there are real antitrust violations, then that’s a valid issue to explore. But, so many of the attacks themselves seem to be a hell of a lot more “politically biased” than any of the claims about how the internet companies themselves are politically biased.
And while there was some talk about the privacy practices of the various platforms (which, while they may be concerning, it’s not clear how any of them violate any laws…), some of the talk also involved an astounding incomprehension of the encryption discussion. And, for that, we’ll go back to Jim Hood again:
For other states, the issue was the tech industry?s relationship with law enforcement. That included talk about Apple and ?how we in law enforcement depend on cellphones.? Hood said that Apple has ?waved at us and didn?t use all their fingers? in its handling of encryption.
That is not at all an accurate portrayal of what happened. Apple was making sure that everyone’s information was safe by using strong encryption. The FBI sought to undermine that safety by demanding that Apple make a massive, and very dangerous, change to its software.
Indeed, it’s quite incredible for Hood to bring this up in the context of the AGs discussing “privacy” concerns about how the big tech companies handle data. If you want them to protect data, you want them to use strong encryption. Yet, here, Hood is whining that Apple dared to actually protect people’s privacy.
So… if tech companies actually protect people’s privacy with strong encryption, they get yelled at and threatened with legal action by Attorneys General. And if they don’t protect people’s privacy… they get yelled at and threatened with legal action by Attorneys General. Just what exactly are they supposed to do?
Again, it is entirely possible that these companies have violated various laws. Perhaps they’re in violation of antitrust laws, though the evidence there is lacking so far. But, from everything that’s been said coming out of this meeting, it does not inspire much confidence that there are reasonable and objective reasons for taking legal actions against these platforms. Instead — and this is all too typical for state AGs — there appears to be a lot of grandstanding and bluster without much substance.