Bipartisan Bill Targets Drugs, Terrorist Content Online (1)

  • Bill requires tech companies to report illegal activities to DOJ
  • Liability protections at risk if companies don’t report activities

(Updated with reaction from industry groups in the sixth paragraph.)

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Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) are introducing bipartisan legislation Tuesday that would limit technology companies’ coveted liability protections over illegal activity on their platforms, such as the sales of opioids.

The bill, the See Something, Say Something Online Act, joins similar efforts in the Senate that seek to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make large tech companies, including Alphabet Inc.‘s Google and Facebook Inc., legally responsible for removing specified illegal content on their platforms.

Section 230 currently exempts tech companies from being held liable for third-party content on their platforms, except when it violates federal criminal laws, such as copyright infringement and sex trafficking. Under the new bill, companies would have to report content dealing with criminal activityinvolving illegal drugs, hate crimes, murder, and terrorism, or risk being held liable for that content.

Tech companies are facing increased criticism over their liability protections from President Donald Trump and the Department of Justice, which issued a proposal seeking to rein in tech companies’ liability shield last week.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee plans to vote Thursday on whether to subpoena the chief executive officers of Google, Facebook, and Twitter Inc. after they refused to voluntarily testify about potential changes to Section 230. The Senate Judiciary Committee also plans to consider legislation this week limiting Section 230 protections.

Google, Facebook CEOs Could Face Subpoena From Senate Panel

Industry trade groups, including NetChoice and the Internet Association, raised privacy concerns with the legislation over the sharing of individuals’ data with law enforcement.

“This bill would pressure online platforms and messaging services to relinquish private information and chats of users to law enforcement,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, said in a statement.

Companies would be mandated by the legislation to share the illegal activity on their platforms within 30 days to a new office created within the Justice Department.

The legislative effort is something Manchin has been interested in doing for a long time, but this week’s hearings prompted the introduction, a Manchin staff member said. West Virginia has the highest rate of deaths from opioid overdoses, according to data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Manchin asked Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey at a 2018 Intelligence Committee hearing whether they felt responsible for the increased sale on their platforms of the drugs. Both Sandberg and Dorsey said it was against their policies to sell drugs on their platforms, according to a transcript.

“This commonsense approach would create a clear mechanism for reporting criminal activity online, requiring companies to take reasonable steps to report unlawful activity or be held liable for that failure. It is past time we held these sites accountable,” Manchin said in a statement about the legislation.

No companion bill has been introduced in the House.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at; Michaela Ross at

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