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House Leaders Don’t Want to Export Internet Liability Law

Bipartisan leaders of a prominent House committee are signaling they are still wary of the internet’s key liability law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

In the latest shot to the 1996 law, which has been fiercely debated in Washington, Reps. Greg Walden, an Ohio Republican, and Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him not to include Section 230 in future trade agreements. 

That’s a signal the debate over this law is far from over, and the threats to it are a little more real. As lawmakers debate the future of the provision, keeping Section 230 out of future trade agreements has been a key tactic of those opposed to it, using the argument that other countries should be able to decide if they want to hold internet sites liable for third-party content.  The two congressmen write that it would be “inappropriate” for the U.S. to export the provision “while such serious policy discussions are ongoing.”

It would certainly be a loss for internet companies if Mr. Lighthizer takes their advice; as they could be subject to lawsuits in countries where the provision is not included in a trade agreement. Keeping Section 230 out of trade agreements is just one avenue for opponents to hobble the law, and we can expect to see more of these attempts going forward.

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