Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Flawed but Fixable: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act at 20

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Flawed but Fixable: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act at 20

Article excerpt

  I. INTRODUCTION  II. ORIGINS OF SECTION 230 OF THE COMMUNICATION         DECENCY ACT III. IMPLICATIONS OF SECTION 230 OF THE COMMUNICATIONS         DECENCY ACT  IV. PROPOSALS TO FIX SECTION 230   V. CONCLUSION 

I. INTRODUCTION

2016 marks the twentieth anniversary of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA"), one of the most significant and controversial laws of the Internet Age. (1) This law has profoundly shaped the landscape of the Internet by offering liability protection to websites for the third-party content posted on their sites. The goal of the law was to protect the public's interest in monitoring, blocking, and screening objectionable content on the Internet while ensuring that Internet companies would grow without burdensome regulation and the fear of constant litigation.

Much has changed since Section 230 became law in 1996. It is hard to believe, but in 1996 there were only approximately 77.5 million Internet users and 257,500 websites in the world. (2) As of 2014, the Internet has grown to nearly 3 billion users and 1 billion websites. (3) Once the frontier of technology, the Internet now facilitates and empowers our interconnected society. While the Internet has evolved, Section 230 has not.

This article examines Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act's origins, its significant implications, and provides several proposals on how to fix some of the flaws in the existing statutory framework.

II. ORIGINS OF SECTION 230 OF THE COMMUNICATION DECENCY ACT

Section 230 of the CDA reads, in part, as follows:

(a) Findings. The Congress finds the following:

(1) The rapidly developing array of Internet and other interactive computer services available to individual Americans represent an extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources to our citizens.

(2) These services offer users a great degree of control over the information that they receive, as well as the potential for even greater control in the future as technology develops.

(3) The Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.

(4) The Internet and other interactive computer services have flourished, to the benefit of all Americans, with a minimum of government regulation.

(5) Increasingly Americans are relying on interactive media for a variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services.

(b) Policy. It is the policy of the United States--

(1) to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer devices and other interactive media;

(2) to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation;

(3) to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and other interactive computer services;

(4) to remove disincentives for the development and utilization of blocking and filtering technologies that empower parents to restrict their children's access to objectionable or inappropriate online material; and

(5) to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer.

(c) Protection for "Good Samaritan" blocking and screening of offensive material.

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

(2) Civil liability. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of--

(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or

(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1) [subparagraph (A)]. …

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