I See This Stupid New Section 230 Bill, And I Say It's A Stupid Section 230 Bill

from the file-that dept

Another day, another truly terrible bill to "reform" Section 230. This is another "bipartisan" bill, which should be a reminder that bad Section 230 ideas are happening across the entire spectrum of political ideologies in Congress. It's being released by Senator Joe Manchin along with Senator John Cornyn, and it's obnoxiously called the See Something Say Something Online Act. I do wonder if they licensed that term, because it was the NYC Metropolitan Transit Association who holds the trademark for "see something, say something" and is notoriously litigious about it. Indeed, the DHS program under the same name "licensed" the name from the MTA, though I still fail to see how either has anything to do with "commerce."

As a side note, before we get into why this bill is so, so bad, let's just note that the whole "See Something, Say Something" concept has been thoroughly and comprehensively debunked as a reasonable approach to law enforcement or stopping crime. Indeed, all "See Something, Say Something" has been shown to accomplish so far is to stuff massive databases full of useless information of people spying on each other.

Now, to this actual bill. It's worse than ridiculous. It's yet another one of these bills that seems to think that it can blame any and all societal ills on Section 230. In this case, it's trying to blame the internet and Section 230 for any kind of criminal behavior with a focus on illegal opioid sales. I know that this is an issue that Manchin has been vocal about for years (and for good reason, West Virginia appears to regularly have the highest overdose rates of any state in the country). But blaming the internet, or Section 230, for that is ridiculous and will not help stop the problem.

And yet, Manchin seems to think he can magically deal with the opioid problem by creating a massive regulatory burden for the internet in a very dangerous manner. The basics are that it would require any website that "detects a suspicious transmission" to submit a "suspicious transmission activity report" or "STAR." What is a "suspicious transmission" you ask?

The term "suspicious transmission" means any public or private post, message, comment, tag, transaction, or any other user-generated content or transmission that commits, facilitates, incites, promotes, or otherwise assists the commission of a major crime.

So... that's preposterously broad. If some comment spammer shows up in the Techdirt comments and posts some nonsense "promoting" drugs, I would have to file an official report with the DOJ? This would be an incredible burden for nearly any website.

And how would it be judged if that suspicious activity was "known" by the platform? Again, we get a very, very, very broad definition:

The term "known suspicious transmission" is any suspicious transmission that an interactive computer service should have reasonably known to have occurred or have been notified of by a director, officer, employ, agent, interactive computer service user, or State or Federal law enforcement agency.

So... if they claim that a website should have known, that's enough that the website has to file one of these crazy reports. Or if basically anyone merely claims something on a website is loosely related to a crime, the website is then required to file one of these STAR reports. Do the staffers who wrote this bill have no clue how many false reports are made every damn day?

And it's not just the websites. The bill would open up this STAR process directly to anyone. This is where it takes the problematic "See Something, Say Something" concept to ridiculous new heights:

The agency designated or established under [this law] shall establish a centralized online resource, which may be used by individual members of the public to report suspicious activity related to major crimes for investigation by the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency.

In other words, the government would set up a snitch database that will undoubtedly be filled with useless junk or people claiming that they saw some "illegal" garbage online that is unlikely to actually be illegal. Just the fact that this encourages people to snitch on others to the DOJ seems problematic enough.

The bill also appears to have a built in gag order, preventing any website from disclosing information about the STARs they've filed with the government. That's a huge blow to transparency. In fact, the bill also says that all of these reports are exempt from any FOIA request.

Of course, all of that is the "new" stuff. The change to 230 is that it would be amended to say that if any website fails to submit he required STARs, then they lose Section 230 protections and may be held liable for the underlying "suspicious transmission."

There are many, many, many problems with this whole bill. It would be massively burdensome to every website that hosts any form of user generated content. I don't think we (or any blog, honestly) could reasonably continue to host comments with this law on the books. We'd have to police all of our comments closely, and with the structure of the bill giving no leeway, we'd be compelled to file these snitch reports to the DOJ on any possibly "suspicious" comments, with suspicious being defined so broadly that merely talking about some sort of crime would necessitate us filing. That's an impossible standard.

Of course, this wouldn't do anything useful. It wouldn't help law enforcement discover crime rings online, because this STAR database would certainly be overwhelmed with garbage, just like every other "See Something, Say Something" database. Also, the fact that it requires websites to report on private information means it will require websites to snoop on private messages, and turn them over to law enforcement. That raises some fairly significant 4th Amendment concerns, by turning private companies into arms of law enforcement.

So, it wouldn't fix anything, would create a massive snoop database for law enforcement, would encourage people to snitch on anything "suspicious" and to force websites to file these useless reports -- while also likely shutting down many user forums online (especially those centered around helping those with drug addiction problems). In other words, it's yet another garbage Section 230 reform bill.

Someone please make these stop.

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Filed Under: intermediary liability, joe manchin, john cornyn, opioids, say something, section 230, see something, see something say something, suspicious activity


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 9:30am

    The meaning of haystack

    So... that's preposterously broad. If some comment spammer shows up in the Techdirt comments and posts some nonsense "promoting" drugs, I would have to file an official report with the DOJ? This would be an incredible burden for nearly any website.

    It's also going to be an incredible burden on the DOJ. When the first day -- and every day thereafter -- brings them a ten petabyte haystack to search for needles, do you think they will use the needles instead to grow Scarecrow's brain?

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

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 9:43am

    Another day, another truly terrible bill to "reform" Section 230. This is another "bipartisan" bill, which should be a reminder that bad Section 230 ideas are happening across the entire spectrum of political ideologies in Congress. It's being released by Senator Joe Manchin along with Senator John Cornyn

    While there are certainly some bad Section 230 ideas coming from both sides of the political aisle, the line from Cornyn to Manchin is most assuredly not "the entire spectrum of political ideologies in Congress"; it's not a line from the right end of the Senate to the left, it's a line from the right to the center.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 9:47am

    Meh. Just generate a report for every single piece of data you (re)transmit. After all, every communication is potentially suspicious.

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

  • identicon
    kallethen, 30 Sep 2020 @ 9:54am

    It feels like our politicians have a contest on who can come up with the most ridiculous Section 230 reform bill, and Cornyn and Manchin are the latest to say, "hold my beer."

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 9:55am

    They wish to enrol all companies into the secret police, and make the Stasi look like a light hand on the population.

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

  • icon
    Jojo (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 9:57am

    I’ve never liked Joe Man-Chin. He’s the least democratic democrat who ever democrated. I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought the internet was a physical place.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 10:14am

    'Here's EVERY comment posted today, see you tomorrow.'

    Lets' see, if you fail to report suspicious content you lose 230 protections, there's a penalty for not reporting something but with the insanely broad scope they'd probably have a hard time arguing that a site was unreasonable in 'just being sure' by reporting anything that might qualify...

    Much like the idiotic attempts to 'fight sex trafficking' that included going after platforms that went out of their way to attempt to help I struggle to think of a better way to hide criminal activity than this bill.

    Sites would either shut down user content entirely, which would just drive the illagal stuff onto sites and that don't give a damn, helping the criminals.

    Or they would make clear that they aren't looking for anything because they're punished for knowing anything, which again helps the criminals.

    Or they would send everything that even might possibly be suspicious, creating warehouses full of digital hay for the DOJ to sort through, making it all the harder to find actual criminal activity, which, and say it with me everyone, helps the criminals.

    For people trying to attack 230 under the guise of hurting criminals they sure seem to be doing everything they can to help criminals, indicating that they are either grossly inept, lying about their motives and just using criminal activity as the excuse since other attempted justifications have failed, or are actively trying to help criminals.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 11:31am

      Re: 'Here's EVERY comment posted today, see you tomorrow.'

      Or they would make clear that they aren't looking for anything because they're punished for knowing anything, which again helps the criminals.

      That won't protect them under this proposed law, as being notified by anybody means they have to look and report.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 2:17pm

        Re: Re: 'Here's EVERY comment posted today, see you tomorrow.'

        It would probably lead to selective enforcement because when everybody's being reported, they have to pick and choose who they wish to make an example of.

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

  • identicon
    jamie, 30 Sep 2020 @ 10:14am

    I see it has already been suggested, but yes, just submit pcaps of all external traffic.

    I'm sure Justice has plenty of time to sort it out.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 10:30am

    Moving on from this and all the other idiots who keep releasing the most ridiculous of bills to basically remove 230, have any of them thought about what they'll be able to blame when any of these new offerings become law and fail dismally, just like the 'back page' fuck up? It never ceases to amaze me how such total dimwits get to become senators etc. Do people really have no one better to vote into office? Dont say much for the sort of folks in these respective areas if they dont. Even worse, cant anyone see the reasons behind these stupid desires? Mind boggling!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 1:38pm

      Re:

      Those who seek power, often do so for power's sake, not because they want to represent their constituents.

      They just want all that Cash the lobbiests are going to shove their way, and to feel like they are 'above' all us regular people.

      They still put their pants on one leg at a time (assuming they have legs and aren't spinless slugs that is).

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

  • icon
    Crazy Hong Kong Monkey (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 11:24am

    Hydroxychloroquine

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 12:05pm

    I can see it now.

    As a threat.
    A person goes Deep into the back log of a Forum, and Places a small note about 'Something stupid'.
    And its kinda hidden. Its a suggestion of bad things.
    (how you get bad things, is ??)

    And now your site loses 230 protections.
    But how far does this impact?
    The creator of the Forum?
    The server owner?
    Or the Whole shabang, up to the corporation that setup the Server farm?
    No limits listed.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 12:15pm

    TikTok, meet STAR.

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

  • icon
    lorgskyegon (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 12:19pm

    Can we make a new agency to deal with these

    And call it the STAR Chamber?

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

  • icon
    Rico R. (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 12:34pm

    Section 230 Critics

    Someone "problematic" on the internet: Breathes
    Congress: Section 230 must be reformed to stop this online evil!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 5:25pm

    "See Something, Say Something

    I spy something... blue.

    In this case, it's trying to blame the internet and Section 230 for any kind of criminal behavior with a focus on illegal opioid sales.

    I have some sad news for anyone who thinks drug dealers or users depend on the internet.

    West Virginia appears to regularly have the highest overdose rates of any state in the country

    Because internet, yeah. Not because they are in West Virginia or anything.

    The agency designated or established under [this law] shall establish a centralized online resource, which may be used by individual members of the public to report suspicious activity

    SWATting in a haystack made easy.

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


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