A coalition of internet accountability groups is warning the Biden administration against including liability protections for tech companies in future trade agreements, saying that could hamstring efforts to hold platforms responsible for user content.
In a letter sent to President
The letter was signed by 16 public interest groups focused on issues such as civil rights, democracy and the market power of tech platforms, including Public Citizen, Color of Change and the Center for Digital Democracy. The coalition came together as the advocates observed how a ratified trade deal could bake in -- and export -- increasingly controversial legal protections for internet companies, said Morgan Harper, a policy director at the American Economic Liberties Project, which also signed the letter.
The groups are “sounding the alarm about this tactic by Big Tech to undermine the inevitability of domestic regulation that’s coming their way,” Harper said. “We expect that this will be a priority for the Biden administration.”
Some Democrats and Republicans want to curb a measure known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects internet companies from lawsuits over user-generated content. President
The coalition’s letter to Biden cites a December request from a bipartisan group of senators that such legal protections for internet companies not be included in a potential
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which was negotiated and ratified under the Trump administration, includes a provision protecting platforms from liability for “harms related to information stored, processed, transmitted, distributed or made available by the service.”
That’s similar to language in Section 230, which tech advocates say has allowed internet companies like
Tech companies learned from the pharmaceutical and financial industries how trade agreements could be used to prevent or change domestic regulation, according to
“We will always lose in the back rooms if we do not have people lined up at the front door,” Robinson said. The platforms “have lobbyists and communications apparatuses all focused on preventing regulation and making this path to new rules seem too hard to land.”
Internet companies would say there is a human-rights and an economic argument in favor of writing these legal protections into trade agreements, according to
Wallach said U.S. policy makers need to have the option to change domestic laws without running afoul of trade agreements.
The Biden administration has to be aware of this “back-door attack of policies inserted in trade agreements that have nothing to do with trade, which could undermine key civil rights domestic policy enforcement,” Wallach said. “We need to get ahead of that. That cannot happen.”
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