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Goodlatte’s Online Trafficking Bill Makes Key Improvements, But Risks to Free Speech Persist

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a markup on HR 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). The Committee will consider an amendment to the original FOSTA in the form of a substitute bill offered by Chairman Goodlatte. This bill includes a number of improvements over both the original House bill and the SESTA bill in the Senate, and we appreciate the Committee’s diligent efforts to craft a more tailored legislative approach. But CDT remains concerned that increasing the risk of criminal charges and civil claims against website operators and other online intermediaries will result in overbroad censorship of constitutionally protected speech.  

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Four Questions Senators Should Ask at Tomorrow’s SESTA Hearing

Members of Congress must seriously consider the consequences of altering one of the cornerstones of the open internet in the US, the law known as Section 230. Tomorrow, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on S.1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). CDT and many other organizations have opposed SESTA. As members Committee consider SESTA the hearing, here are several questions that they should be asking.

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SESTA Would Undermine Free Speech Online

A group of Senators led by Senators Portman and McCaskill introduced a bill that would radically change the way that US law protects freedom of speech online. The bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA), would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as well as the federal criminal code, creating substantial new risks for any host of user-generated content online.

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German Social Media Law Creates Strong Incentives for Censorship

Social media companies and other hosts of third-party content will soon face potential fines of €50 million in Germany if they fail to promptly censor speech that may violate German law. Last week, the German parliament approved the NetzDG legislation, which goes into effect 1 October and will require social media sites and other hosts of user-generated content to remove “obviously illegal” speech within 24 hours of being notified of it. This is one of the most extreme online censorship bills that we have seen from a liberal democracy to date. CDT was critical of this bill when it was first introduced, and we’re deeply concerned that the German parliament has now adopted it.

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Celebrating Twenty Years of Free Speech Online

Twenty years ago today, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Reno v ACLU, the first case in which the Court considered the relationship between the First Amendment and the untested medium of the Internet. This was a pivotal case that required the Court to grapple with the technical characteristics of this new communications medium and to consider how decades of First Amendment doctrine should apply to a technology beyond the Founders’ wildest dreams.

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Twitter Transparency Report Shines a Light on Variety of Ways Governments Seek to Restrict Speech Online

Transparency isn’t an end in itself. Rather, it’s a crucial vehicle for understanding the forces that shape our online experiences. Twitter’s latest report breaks ground by publishing new data about the complex interactions that social media companies can have with governments who are seeking to restrict content online. In this post, we dig into the report and discuss what it reveals about the mounting pressure from governments that intermediaries face to censor user speech.

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German Proposal Threatens Censorship on Wide Array of Online Services

Anticipating federal elections in September, Germany’s Minister of Justice has proposed a new law aimed at limiting the spread of hate speech and “fake news” on social media sites. But the proposal, called the “Social Network Enforcement Bill” or “NetzDG,” goes far beyond a mere encouragement for social media platforms to respond quickly to hoaxes and disinformation campaigns and would create massive incentives for companies to censor a broad range of speech. CDT recommends that the German legislature reject this proposed measure. It clearly impinges on fundamental rights to free expression and due process.

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Takedown Collaboration by Private Companies Creates Troubling Precedent

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube announced their intent to begin collaborating on the removal of terrorist propaganda across their services. CDT is deeply concerned that this joint project will create a precedent for cross-site censorship and will become a target for governments and private actors seeking to suppress speech across the web.

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Senate Inquiry into Backpage’s Content Moderation Practices Would Set Dangerous Precedent for Free Speech Online

CDT has long urged website operators to be transparent, fair, and consistent in developing and implementing their content policies. Companies have an obligation to respect the human rights of their users, and transparency about their content moderation activities is an integral part of that. But when the government attempts to engage in intense scrutiny of a website’s lawful decisions to host constitutionally protected speech, it creates a backdoor to censorship that threatens user speech across the internet.

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