[USC02] 47 USC 230: Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material
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47 USC 230: Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material Text contains those laws in effect on August 14, 2020
From Title 47-TELECOMMUNICATIONSCHAPTER 5-WIRE OR RADIO COMMUNICATIONSUBCHAPTER II-COMMON CARRIERSPart I-Common Carrier Regulation

§230. Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material

(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 services 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).1

(d) Obligations of interactive computer service

A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.

(e) Effect on other laws

(1) No effect on criminal law

Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the enforcement of section 223 or 231 of this title, chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or 110 (relating to sexual exploitation of children) of title 18, or any other Federal criminal statute.

(2) No effect on intellectual property law

Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.

(3) State law

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any State from enforcing any State law that is consistent with this section. No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.

(4) No effect on communications privacy law

Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the application of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 or any of the amendments made by such Act, or any similar State law.

(5) No effect on sex trafficking law

Nothing in this section (other than subsection (c)(2)(A)) shall be construed to impair or limit-

(A) any claim in a civil action brought under section 1595 of title 18, if the conduct underlying the claim constitutes a violation of section 1591 of that title;

(B) any charge in a criminal prosecution brought under State law if the conduct underlying the charge would constitute a violation of section 1591 of title 18; or

(C) any charge in a criminal prosecution brought under State law if the conduct underlying the charge would constitute a violation of section 2421A of title 18, and promotion or facilitation of prostitution is illegal in the jurisdiction where the defendant's promotion or facilitation of prostitution was targeted.

(f) Definitions

As used in this section:

(1) Internet

The term "Internet" means the international computer network of both Federal and non-Federal interoperable packet switched data networks.

(2) Interactive computer service

The term "interactive computer service" means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.

(3) Information content provider

The term "information content provider" means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

(4) Access software provider

The term "access software provider" means a provider of software (including client or server software), or enabling tools that do any one or more of the following:

(A) filter, screen, allow, or disallow content;

(B) pick, choose, analyze, or digest content; or

(C) transmit, receive, display, forward, cache, search, subset, organize, reorganize, or translate content.

(June 19, 1934, ch. 652, title II, §230, as added Pub. L. 104–104, title V, §509, Feb. 8, 1996, 110 Stat. 137 ; amended Pub. L. 105–277, div. C, title XIV, §1404(a), Oct. 21, 1998, 112 Stat. 2681–739 ; Pub. L. 115–164, §4(a), Apr. 11, 2018, 132 Stat. 1254 .)

References in Text

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, referred to in subsec. (e)(4), is Pub. L. 99–508, Oct. 21, 1986, 100 Stat. 1848 , as amended. For complete classification of this Act to the Code, see Short Title of 1986 Amendment note set out under section 2510 of Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure, and Tables.

Codification

Section 509 of Pub. L. 104–104, which directed amendment of title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 201 et seq.) by adding section 230 at end, was executed by adding the section at end of part I of title II of the Act to reflect the probable intent of Congress and amendments by sections 101(a), (b), and 151(a) of Pub. L. 104–104 designating §§201 to 229 as part I and adding parts II (§251 et seq.) and III (§271 et seq.) to title II of the Act.

Amendments

2018-Subsec. (e)(5). Pub. L. 115–164 added par. (5).

1998-Subsec. (d). Pub. L. 105–277, §1404(a)(3), added subsec. (d). Former subsec. (d) redesignated (e).

Subsec. (d)(1). Pub. L. 105–277, §1404(a)(1), inserted "or 231" after "section 223".

Subsecs. (e), (f). Pub. L. 105–277, §1404(a)(2), redesignated subsecs. (d) and (e) as (e) and (f), respectively.

Effective Date of 2018 Amendment

Pub. L. 115–164, §4(b), Apr. 11, 2018, 132 Stat. 1254 , provided that: "The amendments made by this section [amending this section] shall take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act [Apr. 11, 2018], and the amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply regardless of whether the conduct alleged occurred, or is alleged to have occurred, before, on, or after such date of enactment."

Effective Date of 1998 Amendment

Amendment by Pub. L. 105–277 effective 30 days after Oct. 21, 1998, see section 1406 of Pub. L. 105–277, set out as a note under section 223 of this title.

Savings

Pub. L. 115–164, §7, Apr. 11, 2018, 132 Stat. 1255 , provided that: "Nothing in this Act [see Short Title of 2018 Amendment note set out under section 1 of Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure] or the amendments made by this Act shall be construed to limit or preempt any civil action or criminal prosecution under Federal law or State law (including State statutory law and State common law) filed before or after the day before the date of enactment of this Act [Apr. 11, 2018] that was not limited or preempted by section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230), as such section was in effect on the day before the date of enactment of this Act."

Sense of Congress

Pub. L. 115–164, §2, Apr. 11, 2018, 132 Stat. 1253 , provided that: "It is the sense of Congress that-

"(1) section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230; commonly known as the 'Communications Decency Act of 1996') was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims;

"(2) websites that promote and facilitate prostitution have been reckless in allowing the sale of sex trafficking victims and have done nothing to prevent the trafficking of children and victims of force, fraud, and coercion; and

"(3) clarification of such section is warranted to ensure that such section does not provide such protection to such websites."

Ex. Ord. No. 13925. Preventing Online Censorship

Ex. Ord. No. 13925, May 28, 2020, 85 F.R. 34079, provided:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy. Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution. The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology. Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms. As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.

As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes. It is essential to sustaining our democracy.

Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse. Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms "flagging" content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias. As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician's tweet. As recently as last week, Representative Adam Schiff was continuing to mislead his followers by peddling the long-disproved Russian Collusion Hoax, and Twitter did not flag those tweets. Unsurprisingly, its officer in charge of so-called "Site Integrity" has flaunted his political bias in his own tweets.

At the same time online platforms are invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans' speech here at home, several online platforms are profiting from and promoting the aggression and disinformation spread by foreign governments like China. One United States company, for example, created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party that would have blacklisted searches for "human rights," hid data unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party, and tracked users determined appropriate for surveillance. It also established research partnerships in China that provide direct benefits to the Chinese military. Other companies have accepted advertisements paid for by the Chinese government that spread false information about China's mass imprisonment of religious minorities, thereby enabling these abuses of human rights. They have also amplified China's propaganda abroad, including by allowing Chinese government officials to use their platforms to spread misinformation regarding the origins of the COVID–19 pandemic, and to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

As a Nation, we must foster and protect diverse viewpoints in today's digital communications environment where all Americans can and should have a voice. We must seek transparency and accountability from online platforms, and encourage standards and tools to protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse and freedom of expression.

Sec. 2. Protections Against Online Censorship. (a) It is the policy of the United States to foster clear ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet. Prominent among the ground rules governing that debate is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (section 230(c)). 47 U.S.C. 230(c). It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified: the immunity should not extend beyond its text and purpose to provide protection for those who purport to provide users a forum for free and open speech, but in reality use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.

Section 230(c) was designed to address early court decisions holding that, if an online platform restricted access to some content posted by others, it would thereby become a "publisher" of all the content posted on its site for purposes of torts such as defamation. As the title of section 230(c) makes clear, the provision provides limited liability "protection" to a provider of an interactive computer service (such as an online platform) that engages in " 'Good Samaritan' blocking" of harmful content. In particular, the Congress sought to provide protections for online platforms that attempted to protect minors from harmful content and intended to ensure that such providers would not be discouraged from taking down harmful material. The provision was also intended to further the express vision of the Congress that the internet is a "forum for a true diversity of political discourse." 47 U.S.C. 230(a)(3). The limited protections provided by the statute should be construed with these purposes in mind.

In particular, subparagraph (c)(2) expressly addresses protections from "civil liability" and specifies that an interactive computer service provider may not be made liable "on account of" its decision in "good faith" to restrict access to content that it considers to be "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable." It is the policy of the United States to ensure that, to the maximum extent permissible under the law, this provision is not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that-far from acting in "good faith" to remove objectionable content-instead engage in deceptive or pretextual actions (often contrary to their stated terms of service) to stifle viewpoints with which they disagree. Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike. When an interactive computer service provider removes or restricts access to content and its actions do not meet the criteria of subparagraph (c)(2)(A), it is engaged in editorial conduct. It is the policy of the United States that such a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.

(b) To advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section, all executive departments and agencies should ensure that their application of section 230(c) properly reflects the narrow purpose of the section and take all appropriate actions in this regard. In addition, within 60 days of the date of this order [May 28, 2020], the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in consultation with the Attorney General, and acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), shall file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC expeditiously propose regulations to clarify:

(i) the interaction between subparagraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of section 230, in particular to clarify and determine the circumstances under which a provider of an interactive computer service that restricts access to content in a manner not specifically protected by subparagraph (c)(2)(A) may also not be able to claim protection under subparagraph (c)(1), which merely states that a provider shall not be treated as a publisher or speaker for making third-party content available and does not address the provider's responsibility for its own editorial decisions;

(ii) the conditions under which an action restricting access to or availability of material is not "taken in good faith" within the meaning of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) of section 230, particularly whether actions can be "taken in good faith" if they are:

(A) deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider's terms of service; or

(B) taken after failing to provide adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard; and

(iii) any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section.

Sec. 3. Protecting Federal Taxpayer Dollars from Financing Online Platforms That Restrict Free Speech. (a) The head of each executive department and agency (agency) shall review its agency's Federal spending on advertising and marketing paid to online platforms. Such review shall include the amount of money spent, the online platforms that receive Federal dollars, and the statutory authorities available to restrict their receipt of advertising dollars.

(b) Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall report its findings to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

(c) The Department of Justice shall review the viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform identified in the report described in subsection (b) of this section and assess whether any online platforms are problematic vehicles for government speech due to viewpoint discrimination, deception to consumers, or other bad practices.

Sec. 4. Federal Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices. (a) It is the policy of the United States that large online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the critical means of promoting the free flow of speech and ideas today, should not restrict protected speech. The Supreme Court has noted that social media sites, as the modern public square, "can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard." Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1737 (2017). Communication through these channels has become important for meaningful participation in American democracy, including to petition elected leaders. These sites are providing an important forum to the public for others to engage in free expression and debate. Cf. PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 85–89 (1980).

(b) In May of 2019, the White House launched a Tech Bias Reporting tool to allow Americans to report incidents of online censorship. In just weeks, the White House received over 16,000 complaints of online platforms censoring or otherwise taking action against users based on their political viewpoints. The White House will submit such complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

(c) The FTC shall consider taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, pursuant to section 45 of title 15, United States Code. Such unfair or deceptive acts or practice may include practices by entities covered by section 230 that restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities' public representations about those practices.

(d) For large online platforms that are vast arenas for public debate, including the social media platform Twitter, the FTC shall also, consistent with its legal authority, consider whether complaints allege violations of law that implicate the policies set forth in section 4(a) of this order. The FTC shall consider developing a report describing such complaints and making the report publicly available, consistent with applicable law.

Sec. 5. State Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices and Anti-Discrimination Laws. (a) The Attorney General shall establish a working group regarding the potential enforcement of State statutes that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The working group shall also develop model legislation for consideration by legislatures in States where existing statutes do not protect Americans from such unfair and deceptive acts and practices. The working group shall invite State Attorneys General for discussion and consultation, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

(b) Complaints described in section 4(b) of this order will be shared with the working group, consistent with applicable law. The working group shall also collect publicly available information regarding the following:

(i) increased scrutiny of users based on the other users they choose to follow, or their interactions with other users;

(ii) algorithms to suppress content or users based on indications of political alignment or viewpoint;

(iii) differential policies allowing for otherwise impermissible behavior, when committed by accounts associated with the Chinese Communist Party or other anti-democratic associations or governments;

(iv) reliance on third-party entities, including contractors, media organizations, and individuals, with indicia of bias to review content; and

(v) acts that limit the ability of users with particular viewpoints to earn money on the platform compared with other users similarly situated.

Sec. 6. Legislation. The Attorney General shall develop a proposal for Federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.

Sec. 7. Definition. For purposes of this order, the term "online platform" means any website or application that allows users to create and share content or engage in social networking, or any general search engine.

Sec. 8. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Donald J. Trump.      

1 So in original. Probably should be "subparagraph (A)."