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Your Daily Countable: The Next Battle for the Net

by Countable | 9.22.17

Good Tuesday morning everyone, from all of Team Countable, and from me, Managing Editor Andrea Seabrook. Here’s what your government is doing today:

Most of the media will obsessively pick-over President Trump’s speech at the United Nations this morning, and you can too! Watch it live or archived here. To be fair, the political press will keep an eye on Vice President Mike Pence, who’s back in Washington whipping Senate Republicans on their last-ditch attempt to repeal Obamacare. Check out our round-up of the Graham-Cassidy bill.

The Next Battle for the Net

Meanwhile, insiders’ eyes are on the Senate today, though not because it’s doing anything interesting on the floor. Believe it or not, it’s actually a legislative hearing in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that’s the buzz of DC, SF, PA (that’s Palo Alto), Redmond, and 1 Infinite Loop: "S. 1693, The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017," or SESTA.

Seems pretty simple, right? The Internet Biggies should be thrilled to cooperate with Congress on anything that helps stop the vile criminals who traffic and/or solicit children for sex over the internet.

But it’s not simple. And in this critical case, those Internet Biggies aren’t cooperating with Congress at all — they’re fighting it.

See, SESTA would amend one particular part of a 20+ year old bill called — and hang with me here for a sec — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Internet insiders call it simply CDA 230.

Why it Matters: A Brief Primer

  • As the web was exploding in the mid-90s, a huge legal question arose: who’s responsible for bad things posted on the internet? Can prosecutors target ISPs and websites that merely handle the content posted by individual users?

  • CDA 230 established the legal principle that No, sites and ISPs are generally not responsible for users’ posts. In simpler terms, Congress enshrined into law a kind of "don’t shoot the messenger" principle, based on the Constitution’s First Amendment right of free speech.

  • That has meant, for 20+ years, Internet Biggies like Google and Facebook have enjoyed relative immunity from legal actions. But…

  • It has also meant that, for 20+ years, Internet Biggies haven’t faced legal repercussions for enabling vile, criminal activity to take place on their networks. Most do voluntarily work to ferret-out and shut down such sites. But…

  • Some companies, like the infamous sex-peddler, have appeared to take advantage of CDA 230’s protections with the express purpose of escaping legal liability for — and making LOTS of money off of — enabling sex-trafficking rings to operate on their site.

They’re Baa-aaack... Congress Re-enters the Debate

Now some in Congress want to amend CDA 230 in hopes of shutting down sites that enable the trafficking of children for sex. That’s where The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act comes in.

SESTA has a lot of support in Congress — both chambers, both parties. But it’s also got a lot of Internet Biggies fighting against it, not to mention top internet & civil rights groups, like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, R Street Institute and others.

So if you’re wondering what’ll be on the screens this morning of big tech execs, lobbyists and activists of all stripes? It’s likely to be the live feed of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s hearing on SESTA. Watch it live at 10:30am EDT or archived here, and be assured that we at Countable will keep you updated as well.

At a Glance 👀

The White House: Trump @ UN in NYC

  • President Trump speaks at the UN at 10am EDT: Live & archived video here

  • Participates in UN General Assembly meeting

  • Meets with Amir of Qatar

  • Along with First Lady Melania Trump, hosts diplomatic reception & gives remarks.

  • Vice President Mike Pence is back in Washington whipping Senate Republicans on the new GOP Obamacare attempt, the Graham-Cassidy bill.

The House of Representatives:

  • Returns to Washington next week

The Senate:

  • 10:30am EDT: Hearing in Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, S.1693, to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify that section 230 of that Act does not prohibit the enforcement against providers and users of interactive computer services of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sex trafficking.

  • 10:00am EDT: Hearing in Foreign Relations Committee, including the consideration of the nomination of Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., of Utah, to be Ambassador to Russia.

  • 10:00am EDT: Hearing in Armed Services Committee to examine recent Navy incidents at sea.

  • Behind the scenes, GOP leaders madly whipping votes for last-ditch effort on Obamacare repeal.

Lots more tomorrow, folks. Please send any tips, ideas, questions and complaints. Always happy to talk. See you tomorrow.

-- Andrea Seabrook, Managing Editor

Talk to Andrea directly, @RadioBabe. Hit the Take Action button to tell your Reps what you think.


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