More Details Emerge As States' Attorneys General Seek To Hold Back Innovation On The Internet

from the this-is-a-bad-idea dept

We already wrote about how various states' attorneys general (AGs) are seeking to get Congress to give them an exception to Section 230 of the CDA, which would let them pin liability on internet companies for the actions of their users. Now, more details are coming out, as reported in TechHive. The effort is apparently being led by South Dakota's attorney general, Marty Jackley, with help from AGs Bob Ferguson of Washington and Chris Koster of Missouri. Ferguson being included is a bit of a surprise, since Washington state has some big internet companies, and it's bizarre that he'd push for a law that would create so much harm to the internet. In the article, Jackley is quoted as complaining about:
the unintended consequence of Section 230 in that "you've essentially given these guys immunity" when state criminal laws are broken.
Except, that's wrong. Section 230 does not grant them immunity if they broke state criminal laws. It gives them immunity if their users broke state criminal laws. And that's perfectly reasonable, because the AGs should be going after the actual criminals, not the company who made the tools they used. In fact, since many companies will cooperate with legitimate law enforcement requests, having a good relationship with these companies should help these AGs catch criminals. That is, rather than blame Craigslist for criminals using it, they should be working with them to use information on the site to catch criminals. But I guess actually catching a pimp is less exciting than falsely calling Craigslist a pimp-enabler and attacking them in the press.

Meanwhile, some other AGs are looking to completely reinterpret section 230 to their liking. We already noted just recently that Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is trying to blame Google because he could search and find counterfeit goods for sale (by others). In comments, at the NAAG meeting, Hood is now trying to argue that because of Google's "autocomplete," it shouldn't be subject to 230 safe harbors.
One avenue prosecutors may seek to explore is the statute’s vague definition of an intermediary versus a content provider, Reidenberg suggested. During discussion after the panel presentations, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood pressed that angle, asking the panelists what acts by a site operator might be sufficient to categorize it as a content provider, not simply an intermediary.

Hood zeroed in on autocomplete in particular, saying, “We know they manipulate the autocomplete feature.” He is concerned about search engines, particularly Google, where for example a user entering “prescription drugs online” is given “prescription drugs online without a prescription” as an autocomplete option.
Except that if Hood actually understood how autocomplete worked, he'd know that's ridiculous. Google is not creating that content. It's just showing you what terms others are searching for. That is, it's providing factual information. That information could actually be useful to Hood, if he wanted to actually do his job and go after those who are selling the counterfeit drugs, rather than stupidly attacking the platform that would be a big help in tracking down the criminals. But, apparently, stopping truly rogue pharmacies is less headline grabbing than going after Google, even if Google has nothing to do with the actual sale of the counterfeit drugs.

Filed Under: attorneys general, bob ferguson, chris koster, innovation, jim hood, marty jackley, secondary liability, section 230, states


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jun 2013 @ 5:39am

    the whole aim eventually is to completely close the Internet. governments everywhere are now subject to public scrutiny and they dont like it. those governments want to use the internet and every other tool at their disposal to find out every piece of information possible about the ordinary people, but they dont want any information about them or what they have, are or will be doing being released. in other words, they want the selective and exclusive right to use it but even then, only as long as no one puts the embarrassing truth out! the people, yet again, as usual, are being screwed and it's basically because of the goings on of corrupt politicians and heads of big business. the people are supposed to be there at the beck and call of the idle rich, working 16hour days, 7days a week, existing on a piece of mouldy bread and a half a cup of dirty water. all this about helping children and the starving millions in under developed countries is crap! the governments of 'established' countries want things like that so they can use the situations to their advantage! it's gonna be very soon now that there will be massive changes, non of which will be to the benefit of the majority and then we are gonna be right up shit creek with no way of paddling out!! wait and see!!

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