League Of California Cities Want Congress To Change Section 230… To Let Cops Spy On Everyone Using Social Media

from the say-what-now? dept

A few weeks back, we wrote about a dangerous proposal being debated by various cities who were a part of the League of California Cities to send a letter to Congress, demanding it change Section 230. The proposal was pushed for by the city of Cerritos which got the requisite four other cities to endorse the idea. Since then other cities have debated it (often without understanding it) and now it’s up for an official vote by the organization.

As Joe Mullin describes in a post for the EFF, the basis for this demand is positively ridiculous. Officials in Cerritos were upset about some jokers pulling a prank on social media — and for that they wish to destroy the open internet.

The Cerritos proposal is based on a crime that never happened. According to the proposal, Cerritos police responded to an anonymous posting on Instagram, inviting followers to ?work together to loot Cerritos [M]all.? Nothing happened, but the city of Cerritos has now asked the League to endorse dramatic changes to federal law in order to give police vast new powers.

As we detailed in our original post, this proposal is bizarre and has little to do with any of the standard complaints about Section 230. While it has some boilerplate language about pressuring companies to start moderating (even though they already do), the really dangerous stuff is about trying to force social media companies to hand over any data the cops want. The key line in the proposal:

Online platforms must provide to law enforcement information which will assist in the identification and apprehension of persons who use the services of the platform to solicit and to engage in criminal activity

That’s not reforming Section 230 (indeed, it’s entirely unrelated to 230). It’s about ignoring the 4th Amendment. And the 1st Amendment, since it seeks to attack protected speech. It also ignores the fact that websites will already comply with legitimate law enforcement requests for information, if it follows the proper procedures. As the EFF wrote in its letter to the League what they’re asking for would go way beyond what is constitutional (or reasonable);

At a time when there are widespread political demonstrations against police brutality, both online and in the streets, the League?s proposal intrudes on protected First Amendment activity and would impose onerous burdens on smaller, community-focused websites throughout the state.

The proposal intrudes on protected online activism by vesting police with wide discretion to target dissenters and compel websites to produce information about their users. Allowing the police to decide when online speakers are ?solicit[ing] criminal activity? is a straightforward program for shutting down anti-police protesters. If the vague allegation that a website was used to “solicit criminal activity” is enough to spur prosecutions and lawsuits, it will result in widespread Internet censorship. If Congress were to pass such a policy, it would provide a lever to government officials to eliminate protest and rally organizing via social media. Online platforms would be coerced into performing police surveillance of citizens in cities throughout California. Such a proposal is therefore not only out of step with the current political conversations about police brutality; it is antithetical to basic First Amendment principles.

Moreover, the proposal to limit Section 230 as suggested wouldn?t just affect large social media companies. Local newspapers and individual blogs run by concerned citizens would be compelled to monitor their user discussion forums and potentially help police perform surveillance and arrests. Such hobby blogs would inevitably censor their users? speech rather than risk prosecution or litigation based on the speech of others.

One hopes that the League of California Cities will reject this proposal.

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Companies: league of california cities

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Comments on “League Of California Cities Want Congress To Change Section 230… To Let Cops Spy On Everyone Using Social Media”

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11 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Online platforms would be coerced into performing police surveillance of citizens…

While what they want as stated has nothing to do with 230, the effect above is totally someone’s backdoor against 230 and websites. The claim that sites are government actors will (at least apparently to some) start to hold more water, even if only a little.

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