A Very Bad Proposal to Incentivize Online Snitches
Some of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January are beginning to feel the consequences of their actions. But the consequences may extend well beyond the mob if legislation percolating in the Senate gets approved.
The atrociously named ‘‘See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2020’’ from Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is a frontal assault on Section 230, the hobby horse of politicians seeking to stifle online activity and companies they dislike.
As Reason Magazine notes, this particular bill is particularly, and breath-takingly, bad because it seems to set no limits on what kinds of speech can be censored:
The legislation says any interactive computer service provider—that means social media giants, small blogs, podcast hosting services, app stores, consumer review platforms, independent political forums, crowdfunding and Patreon-style sites, dating apps, newsletter services, and much more—will lose Section 230 protections if they fail to report any known user activity that might be deemed “suspicious.”
“Suspicious” content is defined as any post, private message, comment, tag, transaction, or “any other user-generated content or transmission” that government officials later determine “commits, facilitates, incites, promotes, or otherwise assists the commission of a major crime.” Major crimes are defined as anything involving violence, domestic, or international terrorism, or a “serious drug offense.”
For each suspicious post, services must submit a Suspicious Transmission Activity Report (STAR) within 30 days, providing the user’s name, location, and other identifying information, as well as any relevant metadata.
Those submitting the user surveillance reports would henceforth be barred from talking about or even acknowledging the existence of them. STARs would also be exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
And things get much, much wore from there:
The bill would set up a massive new system of intense user monitoring and reporting that would lead to more perfectly innocent people getting booted from internet platforms. It would provide the government with a new tool to punish disfavored tech companies, and it would enlist all digital service providers to be cops in the failed post-9/11 war on terror and the drug war.
The bill states that some posts facilitating crimes require a STAR to be filed immediately, though it’s vague about what these are (any “suspicious transmission that requires immediate attention” requires being reported immediately). The first example it provides is “an active sale or solicitation of sale of drugs.”
A new federal agency would handle the suspicious activity reports—which could also be submitted by any individual, not just tech companies.
An easy, anonymous, online way for people to flag each other’s social media accounts for the Department of Justice—what could go wrong?
Welcome to the opening salvos of the war against domestic terror. It looks a lot like a war against liberty and common sense.