Internet legislation in the US

Two significant bills were put forth in the US this week, both of which are sure to have global consequences if passed. Let’s start with the bad. The Senate has put forth what they’re calling the LAED bill, which is an even worse version of their previous EARN IT bill. It would effectively kill privacy on the Internet, ending end-to-end encryption both on your devices (suppliers would have to build back doors into your phones and laptops), and in transit (they’d have to build backdoors into your communication tools (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Zoom, etc…) so they can snoop on your messages as they’re happening). I really wish governments would just stop trying to do this sort of thing. If you build a back door into a technology, it becomes a huge risk and a safety issue for everyone.

I also mentioned a few weeks ago that we should keep an eye on the “section 230” space. As a reminder, “section 230” is the part of the US Federal law that basically makes the Internet as we know it — for better and worse — possible. It’s the liability shield for corporations that says as long as they remove illegal content when they’re notified about it, they can’t be held liable for what their users put on their sites. This fundamental protection is actual fairly critical to the modern Internet, and makes sense. For example, you’re receiving this newsletter via Mailchimp. If I were to write something libelous, in what way would it make sense for Mailchimp to be at fault? Nevertheless, with Twitter putting fact-check notices on the President of the United States tweets, and with Russia and China engaging in cyber warfare through misinformation campaigns, there’s a growing global sense that we must do something.

This will continue to play out around the world, with different jurisdictions drafting their own legislation, but a first pass is being made in the US. The inconveniently named PACT Act (inconvenient because it’s at least the third US law to be given that acronym, which makes searching for it challenging) seems mostly about transparency around content moderation decisions. One might think that such things are unnecessary, but there’s an awful lot of strange behavior out there, and people’s livelihood can depend on this. For example, popular informational-video YouTuber CGPGrey had his account suspended for several days last year. The PACT Act would mandate that terms of use be easily accessible, including what reasons may be used for content moderation; that in the event a decision to moderate is made (or rejected, as the case may be), both the complaining party and the content creator be notified of the decision and why; and that there exist a right of appeal. Some of the terms of the bill feel … a little twentieth century (“making available a live company representative to take user complaints through a toll-free telephone number during regular business hours for not fewer than 8 hours per day and 5 days per week”), but overall it doesn’t seem too bad for a first attempt at regulating what assuredly will be regulated in different ways around the world.  Lawful Access to Encrypt Data Act Platform Accountability and Customer Transparency Act

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