AG Fox Asks Congress to Hold Internet Service Providers Accountable, Protect States’ Right to Enforce Laws
Attorney General Tim Fox joined 46 Attorneys General across the country this week to ask Congress again to amend the Communications Decency Act to ensure state and local authorities are able to protect citizens online and take appropriate action against criminal actors.
The Communication Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was designed to encourage the growth of the internet by promoting free expression, particularly on online message boards. The Act was intended to allow companies who sponsor message boards to remain immune to repercussions from inappropriate posts, but, due to a misinterpretation of Section 230 of the Act, some federal court opinions have interpreted it so broadly that individuals and services, which knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity, have evaded prosecution.
“Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” and “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (known as FOSTA-SESTA) was signed into law in 2018, making clear that the CDA’s immunity does not apply to enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws. Unfortunately, the abuse on these platforms does not stop at sex trafficking, but includes all sorts of harmful illegal activity such as online black market opioid sales, identity theft, and election meddling.
“The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was drafted when the internet was in its infancy. The original purpose of the Act was to protect children from accessing indecent material online, but courts have interpreted certain provisions of the Act to provide immunity from State prosecution to online classified ad sites that profit from human trafficking,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “As noted in our letter to Congress, addressing criminal activity cannot be relegated to federal enforcement alone simply because the activity occurs online. Attorneys General must be allowed to address these crimes themselves and fulfill our primary mandate to protect our citizens and enforce their rights,” Attorney General Fox added.
Attorneys general have addressed this issue with Congress before. In 2013 and 2017, nearly every state and territory AG wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 of the CDA.
In addition to Montana, 46 other states joined in this letter.