Is William Barr's Latest Attack On Section 230 Simply An Effort To Harm Tech Companies For Blocking His Desire To Kill Encryption?

from the this-makes-no-sense dept

Last month, we noted that Attorney General William Barr was making a bizarre attack on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, claiming that the DOJ was "studying Section 230 and its scope" and arguing -- without evidence -- that 230 might be contributing to "unlawful behavior" online. As we noted at the time, Section 230 explicitly exempts federal criminal charges from what it applies to, meaning that it literally cannot interfere with any DOJ prosecution. So it's truly bizarre to see the DOJ concerned about the issue.

But Barr has continued to push forward with this anti-230 kick, and is going to host a "workshop" about 230 in a few weeks.

The U.S. Justice Department is hosting a workshop next month seeking “a wide diversity of viewpoints” on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the federal statute that, with few exceptions, protections major internet companies and private website owners from liability when it comes to the posts and comments generated by users.

While the DOJ claims that this workshop will have that "diversity of viewpoints," as we've seen in other contexts with the DOJ, that this is rarely the actual case. It may offer up a sacrificial lamb in support of 230, but it is likely to stack the deck against 230. This is the same thing that the DOJ has done, repeatedly, with regard to the encryption debate and questions around "going dark." Indeed, we've noted before the similarities between the government's efforts to attack encryption and the playbook that was used to attack Section 230 in 2018. In fact, we've heard that the very same former Hollywood lobbyist is a key player in both efforts.

Given the similarities in the playbook, and the fact that the DOJ is not hindered at all by 230, it makes you wonder if Barr and the DOJ are playing this anti-230 card simply as a method of punishing the internet industry for opposing his desire to gut encryption? The whole thing seems to be little more than an abuse of DOJ power to intimidate and threaten an entire industry for daring to support online security and free speech online against a government which would prefer neither thing be enabled.

Filed Under: cda 230, doj, encryption, section 230, william barr


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 12:18pm

    Barr wants to shoot the messengers, rather than going after the actual criminals. Like the FOSTA push, this about enabling charges to be levied against third parties, which are easier to find than those using third party services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 12:19pm

    They might get 230 right. There are so many bigger issues though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 12:36pm

      They might get 230 right.

      And I might wake up next to a porn star tomorrow morning. Neither one is all that likely to happen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Norahc (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 10:09pm

        Re:

        Actually, if you have a IOT security camera in your home, you stand a betterr chance of becoming a porn star the Barr being correct on anything tech related.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:45pm

      Re:

      Has government regulation ever gotten anything "right" the first time .. the second time .. ever?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 3:03pm

        Re: Re:

        Sure. When left to experts and empirical data. Then someone comes by and "cuts the red tape", because when has turning a river into dry cleaning fluid ever hurt anyone?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:15pm

      Re: vengeance

      What they might do is give website owners am excuse to ban them and say they don’t won’t be held liable for the brown that comes out of them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Jan 2020 @ 12:36pm

    There are no good options

    Dangerously, willfully stupid, or dangerously petty and spiteful... yeah, I'm not really seeing a non-terrible explanation for his behavior here either way but even if he did have what he thought was a valid reason it still wouldn't prevent his actions and goal from being hugely dangerous to the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:07pm

    Those who have had their reputations destroyed because intermediaries spread defamation without accountability deserve better than to have their harm dismissed.

    If someone on 4chan defames someone who loses a job because of GOOGLE, then GOOGLE inflicted the harm. It's called "distributor liability." Publication and spreading the lie are two separate harms inflicted by two separate parties.

    I should point out to Barr that my views here are being censored as well. Maybe that will tilt things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wyatt Derp, 29 Jan 2020 @ 9:50am

      Re:

      "It's called "distributor liability." "

      aka, bullshit

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2020 @ 6:28pm

      Re:

      Those who have had their reputations destroyed because intermediaries spread defamation without accountability deserve better than to have their harm dismissed

      Still haven't got over Shiva Ayyadurai's loss, have we?

      If someone on 4chan defames someone who loses a job because of GOOGLE, then GOOGLE inflicted the harm

      You just won't let this piece of shit you call an argument die, huh? Newsflash, bumfuck, 4chan hasn't been relevant for a long time. 4chan hasn't been relevant since 8chan decided it wanted to be bigger and badder. 4chan hasn't been relevant since Anonymous took a pot shot at Scientology, then proceeded to fuck themselves over with the swastika stunts in HabboHotel. If an employer is dumb enough to use 4chan as a character reference over LinkedIn or Facebook, he's a pro bono lawsuit waiting to happen.

      Publication and spreading the lie are two separate harms inflicted by two separate parties

      And so is publicly announcing that you're a litigious dumbass who wants the world to know. Milorad Truklja would literally have no one outside of Australia know of his dispute with a local newspaper had he not sued Google.

      I should point out to Barr that my views here are being censored as well

      Oh, you wish your garbage was censored. The fact that I can still pull your responses (the Strike 3 ones are highly entertaining, incidentally, in a vitriolic Jerry Springer sort of way) in real time means that your trash isn't censored. Your daddy Barr has bigger fish to fry, anyway. I imagine he'll need to take an extended trip to Nunes' ranch after Apple tells him to shove it where the sun don't shine.

      Maybe that will tilt things

      Two years waiting on a police investigation and press release because some no-name braggart got his fee-fees hurt on the Internet. I'm going to think that zero divided by anything is still jack fuckall and file this under the list of blanks you fired since late 2017 under this sad persona.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 30 Jan 2020 @ 3:04am

      Re: Reputation

      Again with this! Give it up, man!!

      Those who have had their reputations destroyed because intermediaries spread defamation without accountability deserve better than to have their harm dismissed.

      Remember how someone posted lies about me on various platforms, then contacted my employers to try to get me fired from my job?

      • Who was responsible? The troll.
      • Could I do anything about it? Yes:
        post rebuttals and contact the platform with evidence that the troll's "reviews" were false. Most of the platforms took the comments down; the one that left the comment up allowed me to post a rebuttal, so every time Hamilton brings it up, he's linking to the rebuttal as well, which is why nobody ever takes him seriously.
        Advise my employers it was troll activity
        ** Get a statement from the police to prove I wasn't being investigated for the crimes the troll had falsely accused me of.

      Result: no harm, I was promoted afterwards.

      If someone on 4chan defames someone who loses a job because of GOOGLE, then GOOGLE inflicted the harm. It's called "distributor liability." Publication and spreading the lie are two separate harms inflicted by two separate parties.

      1. The defamation is on 4chan. Google is a search engine. These are different things.
      2. Anyone who believes what they read on 4chan needs their head read, stat.
      3. It's 4chan, not Google, that inflicted the harm, should any occur because you're incapable of pointing out and proving to your employers that this is troll activity. I managed it.
      4. Publication is by the troll alone. You need to take up any issues you have with troll posts on 4chan with the site moderators. That is your first port of call.
      5. The lie is being spread by the troll, who, if he really wanted to do you harm, wouldn't just trash talk on 4chan, he'd post it on other platforms too.
      6. Only one party is responsible; the troll. Platforms refusing to remove their posts will at least permit you to post a rebuttal, which you can then use to defend yourself.

      Why do you keep flogging the damn horse? It's dead. Leave it. You're making a mess.

      I should point out to Barr that my views here are being censored as well.

      It it walks like a duck, I mean troll...

      Maybe that will tilt things.

      No it won't. They'll see my posts too and realise what a prat you are. Stop repeating folly and nobody will think you're dumb.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jan 2020 @ 7:16am

      Re:

      Those who have had their reputations destroyed because intermediaries spread defamation without accountability deserve better than to have their harm dismissed.

      No one is dismissing their harms. We're just saying it's stupid to hold innocent parties accountable for actions they never committed. Do we hold the post office responsible for defamation letters sent through snail mail? No. Do we hold phone companies responsible because they facilitated the phone calls that allowed people to call others and spread defamation that way? No. The internet and social media is no different.

      If someone on 4chan defames someone who loses a job because of GOOGLE

      What? How does defamation on 4chan have anything to do with google? The two aren't even related.

      then GOOGLE inflicted the harm

      Again, how? They aren't related. Unless google is the one posting defamatory speech on 4chan. Which is also not happening.

      It's called "distributor liability."

      Even if you were right, you aren't, because google is not distributing the speech on 4chan. Technically 4chan isn't either. So at best you would hold 4chan responsible as the "distributor" because the content is on their servers, not google, because it's on 4chan's site, not google's. But you're still wrong because websites are not distributors in that specific sense. They host, not distribute.

      Publication and spreading the lie are two separate harms inflicted by two separate parties.

      Neither of which is happening in your 4chan/google example. 4chan isn't a publisher and doesn't spread anything. And the same goes for google. If you want to go with that argument, then you also have to agree that libraries and the Dewey Decimal system also contribute to publishing and spreading defamatory content found in books.

      I should point out to Barr that my views here are being censored as well. Maybe that will tilt things.

      Flagging your post is not censorship. Censorship is preventing you from speaking at all. You're still able to speak and your posts are still there, just collapsed. It's not even moderation. You might try actually learning how this all works.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 30 Jan 2020 @ 7:56am

        Re: Re:

        "What? How does defamation on 4chan have anything to do with google? The two aren't even related."

        He means that he thinks employers are constantly Googling their employees, and take the top results as gospel truth, never considering context or actual conduct by the employee. As soon as something negative appears, true or not, you're out the door no matter what you've been provably doing while employed.

        That's silly and says a lot more about the kinds of jobs he's been able to hold down than it does about Google, but that seems to be the mindset.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 31 Jan 2020 @ 5:06am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I recently changed jobs; the crap still up about me on ROR made no difference to my boss's hiring choices. In any case, he's smart enough to be able to tell the difference between a troll post on the likes of 4chan and a genuine complaint.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 31 Jan 2020 @ 5:46am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Yep, if a new employer takes the first page of a Google result as truth without investigating or asking you further, they're probably not worth working for. If your existing employer does the same thing, you should be searching for the exit immediately.

            I get that some of this stuff must be really uncomfortable on both sides, but an employer who just takes that stuff at face value probably isn't very thorough in other parts of their business.

            I suspect that our friend above has never been in a position beyond that of a vaguely mobile primate and they keep finding excuses to get rid of him when they realise he doesn't even reach that level. So, the idea that an employer would do anything other than the shallowest of basic research must be beyond him.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Feb 2020 @ 6:49am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "He means that he thinks employers are constantly Googling their employees, and take the top results as gospel truth, never considering context or actual conduct by the employee. As soon as something negative appears, true or not, you're out the door no matter what you've been provably doing while employed."

          It's more likely that his beef is that he really doesn't want people to be able to google his real name and come up with a fraud conviction.

          Bobmail/Jhon/Blue has been screaming in hysterics that people shouldn't be allowed to talk about other people online since back in the day on Torrentfreak. And he let slip more than once that his beef was the bad reviews which keeps him from pursuing his business model. And pirates apparently nicking his mailing lists, for whatever reason.

          That's why he's so angry with section 230 and Google in particular.
          Of course it won't get him any cred on most forums to just state that the lack of distributor liability hurts aspiring con men which is why he's trying to phrase that occupation as a "job" you could lose if people started talking about you online.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Feb 2020 @ 6:41am

      Re:

      "It's called "distributor liability.""

      Oh, hey, it's Jhon Smith again. Or should we call you bobmail or Blue today? Done on your Hamilton venting session at last?

      And as usual you keep bringing up "distributor liability" which, if true, would scuttle most of the first amendment because at the end of the day the one who builds the road and the car is not responsible for the bank robber who uses both.

      I'm pretty sure a lot of people have explained dual-use technology to you. Again, and again, and again...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 1:47pm

    If he claims others may be committing crimes online, it's a sure bet that he is doing exactly that. Their projections are amazingly accurate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 2:04pm

    No, he wants to punish everbody who exercises their right to speak.

    It's not a workshop, it's a get-on-board-and-influence-Congress party.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 4:26pm

    Tell me

    At this point I have to ask: why are these people “Politicians etc” still allowed to use these services?
    These people are on twitter calling the internet and everything on it horrible for things THEY are responsible for and they know it.

    What is the benifit or keeping the man who is in the neighborhood trashing it around when you know what he’s going to do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 5:54pm

    Why should COMCAST or VERIZON be forced to provide internet access to people it doesn't like?

    BTW this CENSORSHIP ("moderation") is lame, and a perfect example of conservatives being targeted to manipulate the flow of online information.

    Then there's that lawyer-hacker MAFIA that deliberately defames people, and uses certain "media" sites as backchannels to further their agenda.

    Heck, he'd have the power to investigate this and probable cause, wouldn't he?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2020 @ 6:34pm

      Re:

      Why should COMCAST or VERIZON be forced to provide internet access to people it doesn't like?

      Because people eventually get bored of you shooting your own foot all the time and permit your idiocy out of graciousness.

      BTW this CENSORSHIP ("moderation") is lame, and a perfect example of conservatives being targeted to manipulate the flow of online information

      Remember the days of MyNameHere where you at least pretended you weren't a fan of the Trump administration? I mean, you sucking whatever cock you think will get you what you want is hardly surprising, but still.

      Then there's that lawyer-hacker MAFIA that deliberately defames people, and uses certain "media" sites as backchannels to further their agenda

      Ah, the old "pseudonym got offended, posts under signature writing styles, complains about the same damn topics in the same damn ways and can't figure out why he keeps getting identified" chestnut.

      Heck, he'd have the power to investigate this and probable cause, wouldn't he?

      Charles Harder failed to kill this site, get over yourself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 6:06pm

    What Barr is REALLY going to look at is the gang violence that is fueled by the 24/7/365 online conflicts that the ISPs and websites have no incentive to stop. Kids have been getting KILLED because of this (same for bullying videos that go up).

    Immunizing sites from false advertising is also anathema to consumer protection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2020 @ 5:08pm

      Re:

      Doubling down to double posting, have we? Happy 2020 to you too, John Smith, you old impotent fuckwit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2020 @ 6:47pm

      Re:

      What Barr is REALLY going to look at is the gang violence that is fueled by the 24/7/365 online conflicts that the ISPs and websites have no incentive to stop

      Barr is not going to stop the Nazis you think are going to form your one-size-fits-all excuse to ram whatever tech law shit you think you're getting. Like you claim ISPs and websites do, he has no incentive to stop. Pandering to the violent rhetoric and scamming the people who drink it up is how this current Presidency has run things. If you think Barr is going to result in anything meaningful for your mailing list scam I've got a bridge to sell you.

      Kids have been getting KILLED

      Laws against bullying videos have been attempted. They fail for very good reasons: neither the tech, nor the humanity, exists to moderate and enforce these laws at scale without fucking things up for everyone else.

      However, as someone who was relentlessly bullied as a kid, I will take your sad attempt to use someone else's plight and exaggerate it for your Techdirt hateboner and tell you sincerely to fuck off, not that I expect you to take the advice.

      Immunizing sites from false advertising is also anathema to consumer protection.

      Your hatred of review websites is duly noted once again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 30 Jan 2020 @ 12:29am

      Re:

      "What Barr is REALLY going to look at is the gang violence that is fueled by the 24/7/365 online conflicts"

      Because we all know that gang violence never happened before social media /s

      "Immunizing sites from false advertising is also anathema to consumer protection."

      Here's a wild idea - why not go after the people who are creating false advertising, rather than the billboard they happen to post it on?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Feb 2020 @ 6:56am

      Re:

      "What Barr is REALLY going to look at is the gang violence that is fueled by the 24/7/365 online conflicts that the ISPs and websites have no incentive to stop. Kids have been getting KILLED because of this (same for bullying videos that go up)."

      Bobmail, didn't we wean you from the habit of going "but think of the children" every time your arguments were weak way back on Torrentfreak? And yet here we are again, you lauding an ultra-authoritarian thug once again - and as usual with no arguments.

      No, Jhon. We won't be abolishing modern mass communications and the concept of free speech online just because you want the law to render abuse even easier for copyright trolls and con men.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2020 @ 6:37pm

    Barr is more a common thief criminal and seditionist then any social media site could ever be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ScottJohnson3 (profile), 29 Jan 2020 @ 11:06am

    the only issue i ever had with section 230 is that companies like backpage and others were using it to allow traffickers to post ads online of underage girls. while backpage and craigslist would reap millions off of these ads, (and in backpage's case was found guilty of helping to facilitate these traffickers), backpage would exploit 230 to make millions

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous, 29 Jan 2020 @ 11:30am

    CDA Section 230 is an ill conceived law giving claimed blanket liability immunity to uncaring Tech Giants allowing and promoting on their sites libelous/slanderous content directed toward, and at the expense of, innocent individuals and small businesses. They are more powerful than any other publishers on earth yet given a free pass to publish utter garbage about anyone and it goes out to the entire World and lives for a life time. Posters are often those types who don’t care about being sued, they have no assets, and actually invite the opportunity to get some more attention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2020 @ 11:52am

      Re:

      The alternatives are either no moderation, or requiring third parties to decide whether what you want to say should be allowed. Neither option is any good for society, as the first leads to a the loudest and most obnoxious people overrunning a platform until they are the only ones left using it, and the second increasing moderation as those who would censor the speech of others demand stronger and stringer moderation based on what they view to be acceptable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 29 Jan 2020 @ 1:21pm

      Re:

      CDA Section 230 is an ill conceived law

      ...he said, while relying on CDA Section 230 to voice his opinions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 Jan 2020 @ 5:30pm

        Re: Re:

        'Person posting anonymously on an open forum complains about law that allows posting anonymously and open forums' is an own-goal/joke that never gets old, yes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Darkness Of Course (profile), 29 Jan 2020 @ 1:02pm

    Is Barr doing something bad ...

    Yes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2020 @ 9:23pm

    MyNameHere just hates it when due process is enforced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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