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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 1st amendment, 4th amendment, california, cerritos, cities, intermediary liability, police, section 230, social media, surveillance
Companies: league of california cities


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 1:38pm

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

    Do not trust to hope. It is forbidden in 2020.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 8 Oct 2020 @ 2:34pm

    You're talking about small-town politicians here right? And you expect them to show some common sense instead of doing all they can to become bigger and more influential politicians (any news is good news) on a larger stage? You so silly.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2020 @ 3:11pm

    Never hear any good news from california these days. Tell me would this stupid proposal only affect california or is this another of those "one affects all" pieces of crap?

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 4:34pm

      Re:

      It wouldn't do anything. California cities can't change federal law. It would have them call on Congress to change the law in an unconstitutional way. It's just dumb.

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

      • icon
        fairuse (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 7:22pm

        Re: Re:

        Makes sense to me. California? Why is begging for the powers East Germany police enjoyed in the cold war making me laugh.

        Teach history? Sorry, not allowed, teach feeling hurt is "Their" fault.

        Opinion Alert/

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 4:38pm

    Anyone?

    Think this might be a backdoor Run on 230?

    Would really like to know if any of them READ 230.
    Or if they know the LAWS related to any of this Already in USE, at all.

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

  • identicon
    Whoever, 8 Oct 2020 @ 4:41pm

    Who are they?

    I see nothing on their website that would suggest that they are anything other than yet another "think tank".

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

    • icon
      fairuse (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 7:56pm

      Re: Who are they?

      I did not visit website but did read the proposal. Agree that League is another govern's club. All the words, "solicit criminal activity", includes sex workers in there. What was that website page that got everyone singing sex trafficking?

      So lets try that on meet-up posts the-powers-that-be dislike.

      End of Opinion

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Oct 2020 @ 4:59pm

    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.

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

  • icon
    Kevin_Chad (profile), 8 Oct 2020 @ 5:44pm

    I think they would spy anyway.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.