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Free Expression

Senate Passes Bill that Will Lead to Online Censorship

Today the Senate passed a bill that will lead to censorship of a broad range of speech and speakers while failing to help law enforcement prosecute criminal traffickers. H.R. 1865, which combines the bills known as SESTA and FOSTA, significantly expands the risks for website operators who host individuals’ speech. While we are deeply sympathetic to the tragedy and lack of justice experienced by victims of sex trafficking, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) does not believe the bill will have the intended impact and has opposed the legislation.

“This bill unfortunately does little to address the serious and heartbreaking problem of sex trafficking, and will likely serve only to drive trafficking activity offline or to overseas websites. At the same time, it creates a host of obstacles to the free and open internet. By pushing forward this flawed bill, the Senate has undermined a core protection for free speech online by substantially increasing the risk faced by platforms that host and enable access to user-generated content,” said Emma Llansó, CDT’s Director of Free Expression.

“Without Section 230, the internet as we know it today would not exist. By amending it and introducing expanded criminal and civil liability for intermediaries, Congress is increasing online hosts’ incentives to censor broadly. It will no doubt be tested in court,” Llansó added.

“Policymakers must recognize that creating liability for the speech of users will only lead companies in one direction: censorship. At the same time, we urge tech companies to be more open and transparent about the steps they take to moderate content under their own terms and policies. Without better information from industry about what is and isn’t possible in content moderation, we will see legislators continue to make public policy decisions in the dark,” Llansó concluded.